What legacy did Schmeichel leave for goalkeeping?

Saturday 18 November 2023 07:59

Peter Schmeichel was a true goalkeeping giant, whose influence can still be seen in the profession today.

As the Dane turns 60, we spoke to one of Manchester United's current keepers, Tom Heaton, to explain the impact the Scandinavian had on the English game, since arriving from Brondby in 1991.

While Eric Cantona is championed as the catalyst who took Alex Ferguson's team to the next level, the signing of Schmeichel was a similarly transformative masterstroke that would help propel the Reds to years of sustained success.

The Scandinavian was undoubtedly the best in the world at times and finished his United career on the high of captaining the side in the 1999 Champions League final against Bayern Munich, when the Treble was secured.

On his landmark birthday, it is time to reflect on what Schmeichel brought to the art of goalkeeping. An imposing figure, he would keep his defenders on their toes with expletive-laden communication, and this was how he played the game - aggressively.

Flying out to meet forwards, and making himself as big as possible, he was an intimidating obstacle to overcome. Of course, there was the agility and ability to pull off stunning saves but so much more to his repertoire. The huge throw-outs, to the likes of Ryan Giggs and Andrei Kanchelskis launched many a successful counter-attack.

Schmeichel was just different to what we had seen before and, from his debut against Notts County, he would show just how important the position was to providing the bedrock to winning trophies.

Heaton: How Schmeichel influenced me Video

Heaton: How Schmeichel influenced me

Tom Heaton explains how Peter Schmeichel brought new facets to the art of goalkeeping...

Heaton is well placed to judge, having played for two of Peter's former clubs in United and Aston Villa, and outlined the legacy the gladiator from Gladsaxe has left.

“An incredible one, I think," he told us. "Sixty is obviously a milestone for him and, for me, it’s a bit of a surprise because I grew up watching him. I used to love watching him, you know, the aura he brought to goalkeeping.

"I think that was one thing, he was a real presence at the back of a team, which could affect the whole side. That was certainly one thing. I think you look at his sort of spread, the star-shaped saves, probably from a background in handball, which brought that out.

"And then that has sort of developed now, and you often see that in modern-day goalkeeping, the spreading with the hands out wide and the legs out wide, certainly in one-v-one situations. So he certainly left a legacy there but I think he was just a top, top performer. He had incredible success for one of the biggest clubs in the world so, yeah, it’s a massive legacy for him.”

Schmeichel's distribution was something utilised to good effect by Ferguson, becoming a key part of our tactics in the 1990s, while his arguments with centre-backs Steve Bruce and Gary Pallister kept the defensive unit on their guard throughout.

"I think he influenced the team offensively and defensively, and also in what he got out of other people," added Heaton. "You know, we’ve all seen that shouting at the back four, digging defenders out and that aura and presence that he had. It was massive for his football club and it certainly was a revolutionary, I think, at the time.

"I think everyone responded to it and the way he did it, and his performances alongside that, brings that sort of respect. It brings that trust, the consistency that he showed throughout his time at this football club."

Watch our Top 10 of saves by Peter Schmeichel.

Some saves stick in the mind for Heaton, and the way the keeper refused to accept he was beaten, pulling off stops that would astound the opposing striker and watching supporters.

“I think the [Ivano] Zamorano header, at one point, for Inter, and I think there was that Rapid Vienna save," said Tom. "Some of his acrobatics and the positions he got into were probably unorthodox from what we’d seen before. But they were absolutely incredible, incredible saves. These were regular things.

"I remember Ryan Giggs told me once that there were days where you’d be laughing at him in the shooting drills because you just couldn’t get the ball past him. He was diving, whilst laughing, because he was already there [to save it]. So, you know, that shows you the level he was at and what he brought. As I say, the whole performance during that era at Manchester United was incredible.”

The current Red also commends the influence Schmeichel had for the Denmark national team, who won the European Championship in 1992, and allowed him to showcase his talents on that stage too. 

“I think it was an incredible spell for them, for that national team," he said. "And I remember the goalie jersey actually with all the different coloured spots on that, the Danish one. It is one that sticks out in your mind. So, yeah, it doesn’t surprise me that he had such a big influence on that team.

"He still has an incredible connection with this football club, he still cares deeply for it. I think, for me, seeing him growing up, seeing him play, trying to sort of use some of his qualities and influence my game a little bit. He certainly left a big legacy throughout football and is a hero of mine. He was someone you looked up to and I thoroughly enjoyed watching him play.”

Tom Heaton's save from Zlatan Ibrahimovic prompted a reaction from Peter Schmeichel.

Schmeichel came back to England after leaving United for Lisbon outfit Sporting in 1999 and, like Heaton, represented Villa. The Dane was spoken about fondly at the Midlands club and is generally regarded to be one of the best keepers ever to appear in the Premier League.

"Very much so," replied Tom, when asked if he was still spoken about there. "I think everyone knows his quality. Everyone knows what he's about. He was a top-class performer wherever he went. But I think, for me, the real connection was Manchester United. You know, I've been here watching him as a kid playing in goal. I got to know him a little bit now as I've got older.

"He was one of the first people to reach out to me when I was at Burnley, actually playing at Old Trafford, and I made that save against Zlatan Ibrahimovic. It was similar to his style of a sort of handball star shape, and he was one of the first to reach out to me.

"And for me, you know, with one of your heroes reaching out to you, it was incredible, really. So I've got an awful lot of respect for him. And yeah, you know, I think his legacy speaks for itself.”