Monday 28 October 2013
In an exclusive interview with premierleague.com, Peter Schmeichel explains why away supporters in the Barclays Premier League are so special, why he has no regrets about leaving Manchester United and why different teams in the English top flight require different types of shot-stoppers.
"When you see thousands of Manchester United supporters have made the trip and are there to support you, your whole mood changes"
With five title winners' medals to his name, Schmeichel is one of the most successful goalkeepers in the history of the Barclays Premier League and the former Denmark international, who is helping Barclays launch a global advert to say Thank You to fans around the world for supporting the competition, has fond memories of playing in front of packed stadia, and particularly away fans.
"Manchester United has been blessed with fantastic support," said the 49-year-old. "The thing about away support is that you notice them more. Because there are not that many and they are always outnumbered, they sing more, and they make themselves more vocal and it's a day out somewhere, which also helps what kind of mood they're in.
"I still think the atmosphere at Old Trafford is fantastic but on a Tuesday night when you are somewhere a long, long way from home, it's raining and windy, you're kind of miserable and you have to play and you come out and you see thousands of Manchester United supporters have made the trip and they are there to support you, the whole mood changes. Suddenly you are playing for them because you don't want to disappoint those guys who have made that trip for you."
Schmeichel cites Goodison Park as his favourite away ground, with the passion of the crowd and the spectators so close to the pitch a far cry from the "half-empty stadiums" he frequented after leaving United for Sporting Lisbon in 1999.
"My favourite away ground was Goodison Park because that was my first away game and the first time I experienced what I'd been dreaming about for years and years and years," said Schmeichel. "The crowd was in tight, you couldn't hear individuals, you could hear thousands of people singing and shouting, it was just absolutely fantastic."
Despite admitting his move to Portuguese football represented a considerable downshift in intensity, the great Dane had no regrets about leaving Old Trafford when he did. "You can always look back and say, 'Yes, I could have had another two years,' but I played there for years and came out of my career without any major issues.
"For my sanity and my future I needed to call it a day because it was really, really tough"
"I had eight years of solid football with no breaks, and for my sanity and my future I needed to call it a day because it was really, really tough. The more successful we became, the more games we played and back then we virtually played with the same team every game.
"It's changed today. The mentality and the attitude towards being rested has completely changed. That wasn't happening back then and I wouldn't like that to happen back then, so it wears you out. Mentally I was very, very tired so I know in my heart that I made the right decision. I had eight fantastic years at Old Trafford and the way that I ended my career at there, you can't do much better than that."
An agile shot-stopper and fierce competitor in his heyday, Schmeichel has been praised in Sir Alex Ferguson's new autobiography for being 'a warrior' in the dressing room, but when asked which qualities are most important in a goalkeeper, the answer is not as direct as one might expect.
"First of all it depends on where you play, what kind of team you are playing for," he said. "If you play for a top team in the Barclays Premier League you need a certain type of goalkeeper. If you are playing for a bottom team, it's another kind. Some goalkeepers can only play well if they're in the game if they're involved, some goalkeepers have the ability to stay focused and be involved maybe once in a match.
"Some make a contribution by being available for back-passes and others can't deal with that. We've seen over the past 10 years, goalkeepers with big reputations joining bigger clubs but leaving them again because they weren't the right goalkeeper for that team, so it's difficult to say what kind of qualities you need.
"You need completely different types of goalkeepers for different types of clubs"
"If you want to generalise, you need to be able to concentrate and you need the ability to create calm at the back and not havoc, and those kind of things are important regardless of where you are playing, but you need completely different types of goalkeepers for different types of clubs."
In terms of United's current incumbent, Schmeichel has nothing but praise for David De Gea, who has effectively cemented his place as United’s first-choice keeper after enduring a good deal of criticism when he first arrived.
"He's done fantastically well," said Schmeichel. "I can't remember anyone at that age coming into the Barclays Premier League from a foreign country and being criticised on such a daily basis – TV, radio, newspapers – being the subject of every chat show on sports radio about how bad he is, how useless he is and how big a mistake Sir Alex Ferguson made by signing him, and then recover the way he did that very same season.
"He has just gone from strength to strength since and I don't think anyone now doubts his ability or that he is genuinely the No 1 goalkeeper at Manchester United. It's not even an issue any more that they need another goalkeeper – no-one talks about that. Praise and praise! To have the mental strength to go through all that and come out the way he has, a much better goalkeeper, I really admire the kid. And if you've got a mentality like that, you've got every chance in the world to make it to the very, very top of your profession."
Peter Schmeichel was speaking at the launch of the new global advert for the Barclays Thank You campaign. This season Barclays is saying thank you to all the dedicated global fans for their support in making the Barclays Premier League what it is.