How Schmeichel left Denmark for United
Famous former goalkeeper Peter Schmeichel has explained how a surprise visit from Alex Ferguson in 1990 left him "dumbstruck", prior to his transfer to Manchester United.
The legendary Danish no.1 was playing for Brondby at the time, and had already missed out on one opportunity to join United due to the two clubs' inability to agree a transfer fee.
Schmeichel was hugely frustrated at being denied the chance of a move to England but, after redoubling his efforts in Denmark, he was rewarded later in the season with an impromptu visit from the United boss.
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"It was probably the lowest point of my life," he explained to the UTD Podcast. "But I turned that 180-degrees and said [to myself]: 'I'm going to use this as an energy source to become even better. You can't avoid me now. I have to be so much better so they [United] are going to come back.'
“So I had about two months of using that energy and just working really hard, and, one day, I got asked to go my agent's – he had an assistant in Denmark. 'Go to his house.' I got to the house and Alex Ferguson's there. I've never met this guy before. I've seen him [before], because we were in the same hotel a couple of years prior to that, where they [United] were hot-weather training and we were pre-season training. So I haven't spoken to him in my life.”
Ferguson's appearance had a two-fold effect: firstly, it inspired Schmeichel to keep his focus and, secondly, it made it clear to him that United were determined to secure his services, however long it took.
“Was I star-struck? Remember back then, he was closer to getting sacked, according to the media, than being knighted!" the big Dane continued.
"He'd taken the morning flight over to Copenhagen, gone to this house, and he said: 'I just want to let you know that I've seen what I want, and I'm coming back for you in the summer.' We're in September here. 'Keep doing what you're doing, keep working hard, stay fit, and I'll see you in the summer.'
“He shook my hand and went back to the airport, and I was maybe a bit dumb-struck more than star-stuck! So I had that kind of knowledge that he was still keeping tabs on me, and, obviously, I wouldn't like to let him down or let myself down, so, again, that was used more as an energy source.
“Personally, I had a really, really good year and I think maybe my development - it's difficult to put a number on it – but I might have improved 30 per cent in that one season – because of the coach we had [Morten Olsen], but also because of knowing that if I did my job, my dream could possibly come true.”
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When Schmeichel eventually sealed his switch to United in the summer of 1991, he was again caught off-guard when club chairman Martin Edwards took him aside for a personal tour to explain what the club was all about.
"I came over in May in the knowledge that now I'm going to sign this contract," recalled the Treble winner. "It's going to be such a big moment for me. And basically the deal was already done, by Martin Edwards, the chairman back then, and my agent.
“I came over and I'm thinking: we're going to sit down, the contract's going to be there, and I'm going to put my signature to it. And Martin Edwards said, 'Come' and he took me to the museum and he went through every little bit of the museum, making sure that I understood precisely what kind of club I was joining, what my responsibilities would be as a player for this football club, and the tradition and the history of this club that I would be a temporary bearer of.
Schmeichel discusses how his move to United was held up.
"He would watch me all the way around and he would see if I took this on or was dismissing it, and I'm sure that, if I'd been ignorant about that, he would have said 'No'. I really like that.
“All the due diligence had been done," Schmeichel notes. "I only realised when I started to work for the club that Alan Hodgkinson [goalkeeping coach] had been over like 15 times, even in that year where he [Ferguson] said: 'You're coming. I'm coming back for you.'
“He kept tabs on me. I think they'd done their due diligence. They know the player as a player; they know what they can do on a football pitch. So we're not in doubt about that, but we also have to look at the personality.”
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WHAT THEY SAID
Alan Hodgkinson: “Within 10 minutes of watching the game [against Odense], I knew this goalkeeper was special. From the start, it was evident to me that Schmeichel was not only a top-class goalkeeper but had all the hallmarks of being world class. Watching him for the first time, I knew I had found the goalkeeper Alex had been looking for. No sooner had the final whistle sounded, than I was making my way to the Brondby manager's office. I quickly discovered Schmeichel was available and for what price. He had an agent, the Norwegian Rune Hauge. Having established our interest, I rang Alex. 'He's the one', I told him. 'He will win the Premiership for you.' 'How much are they asking?' enquired Alex. '£500,000. Believe me, he'll be the bargain of the century.'”
The Independent: “Peter Schmeichel is a broader, stronger version of Gary Bailey, whose confidence illuminates the whole area.”
Alex Ferguson: “The signing, when it took place in August of 1991, was for a fee of £505,000, which made it one of the bargains of the century in football. During most of his time with us, a golden spell in our history that was to finish perfectly with the European Cup triumph in Barcelona, Peter Schmeichel was the best goalkeeper in the world.”
You can listen to the full Schmeichel episode of UTD Podcast now.