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Peter Schmeichel: One-on-One

In the lobby of Peter Schmeichel’s agents’ offices in Cheshire, FourFourTwo finds the Danish goalkeeper dressed in full Manchester City kit and a pair of boots. His face is frozen in concentration and his arms are spread out in front of him as he seemingly waits to save a shot. It soon transpires that Schmeichel isn’t indulging in an impromptu indoor kick-about; this is actually his waxwork, rescued from the defunct Premier League Hall of Fame.

The real Schmeichel is in a cheerful mood, so much so that he can’t even bring himself to produce one of his famously angry faces for our photographer. “If you want that, I’m afraid you’ll have to come to a game,” he says. But sadly this is no longer possible; two days later possibly the game’s greatest ever goalkeeper announces his retirement.

Albert Camus, Eduardo Chillida, the Pope... Julio Iglesias. Being a goalkeeper seems to attract the serious artistic/political types. Why is this, and do you fall into the stereotype?
Alex Leith, Barcelona
Wow! Well to be a part of a football team, you need to work collectively to win games, but as a goalkeeper you also have to be an individual and a very strong-minded person because most of the time you’re on your own. You are facing the other way to your team-mates for long periods, and whenever you make a mistake, there is no one there to help you. Maybe this all creates a certain personality and guides goalkeepers towards these pursuits. Do I fall into that stereotype? I don’t know, but I would like to be the Pope!

You didn’t join Man United until you were 27. Did you ever think your chance of a big move had gone?
Terry Cork, Sheffield
It’s true that I was a late starter, but I never gave up. I was 23 when I signed my first full-time contract, but that was mostly due to the system in Denmark. I had four good years at Brondby, which I treated like an apprenticeship, learning how to play and be a professional. I knew that prime time for a goalkeeper is around 27 and above, so I was never nervous that I wouldn’t get a big move. I always believed in my ability.

How did you develop your ‘star jump’ technique for making saves?
Ben Lyttleton, London
I played handball up until I joined United, both as a goalkeeper and an outfield player. What does he call it? The star jump technique. That is a big part of being a handball goalkeeper and I brought that move into football. It is a very effective way of saving a chance. If you’re on the line and someone has a header, the chances of you reacting to where it goes are slim, so this technique helps you to cover as much of the goal as possible.

Is it true that you had to have therapy to get over seeing David Busst's leg broken before your eyes? How did you play on after that happened?
Karen Walters, via e-mail
No, I never had therapy, but it wasn’t a nice experience. I saw it all happen. It was early on in a game we needed to win, the crowd were really up for it, there was a fantastic atmosphere, but after that everyone went numb and the atmosphere disappeared. Both teams just went through the motions to get the game over. It was very difficult. What we had witnessed was horrendous, very, very nasty. It was tragic for David.

We tried to see David in the following days, but he was having too many operations. However, we were fortunate enough to play in his testimonial a year later. The game was in our holiday time, but every United player was queuing up to play in it. Then a year later I bumped into him at Old Trafford and we had a good, long chat, and for me that was the day it finished. It was closure, because he told me he was happy, working with kids in Coventry. For two years, from the accident to that day, it was in my head all the time. I felt sorry for him, but also I knew it could have happened to any one of us. To see him as happy as he was showed me that he had come through it all.

What was it like rooming with Eric Cantona? Did he have any strange habits?
Florence McGhee, Blackburn
I would never, ever make a comment about that. It is a private thing. Eric Cantona is a very good friend of mine, and whatever happens or is said should remain private.

Can you tell us your funniest Fergie story?
Ron Newsome, Northampton
No, not really.

What's the worst goalkeeping blunder you’ve made?
Sarah Cooke, Southampton
There have been a few! Fortunately I made mistakes that weren’t too expensive, and if I did make a mistake my team would help me out and go and score two or three goals at the other end. Probably the worst mistake was an FA Cup tie against Barnsley where I totally miskicked the ball and they scored from it. We got knocked out of the FA Cup because of that.

Is it true that David Beckham and Ryan Giggs filled your locker full of Danepak after you filmed that bacon ad?
David Jones, via e-mail
No, because we didn’t ever have lockers at Old Trafford.

Be honest: can you really blame those grey kits for losing at Southampton?
Peter Moynihan, via e-mail
You can never blame anything apart from your performances for losing. We didn’t use the grey kit as an excuse; we changed at half-time and obviously we were going to be asked why. Well, the reason is we couldn’t see each other. That’s the truth. Playing at Southampton, a small tight stadium where the crowd is close to the pitch, made it difficult. Our players just disappeared with the crowd behind them. We couldn’t see each other, we complained about it at half-time, and Fergie being Fergie, he told us to change and we never played in it again.

We had the same thing at Manchester City. This season, against Chelsea and Charlton, who play away in black, we couldn’t see them under the floodlights at Maine Road and lost both games.

What was going through your mind as you jogged into the Bayern Munich penalty area 1-0 down in the 1999 Champions League final?
John Foster, Bury
Let’s get a goal! It’s a thing I had always done when we were losing by a goal because I can’t see the big difference in losing 1-0 or 2-0. When someone of my size arrives in the penalty area, it confuses teams as they’re all marking someone already. This was my intention when I went in to the Bayern Munich area, hoping it would give us a chance.

Are you still upset that your overhead kick versus Wimbledon in 1997 was disallowed? It would have been the greatest goalkeeping goal ever!
Nick Malaperiman, Vancouver
I’m very, very disappointed, but the linesman was right. I was offside. It was an FA Cup tie, and it would have brought us back into the game. And yes, it would have been the greatest goalkeeping goal ever!

Did you ever go too far in shouting at your defenders, and was it easy to resolve afterwards?
Rob White, Dorset
This is simple. I never went too far, and I never had a problem after a game.

How good can your son Kasper become? Are you ‘Competitive Dad’; do you shout and bawl at him from the sidelines during matches?
Ian McDonald, Glasgow
I don’t want to go into that.

Were you hurt by Roy Keane’s criticism of you in his book? What was your working relationship like with him at United and what do you think of him now?
Vince Grace, Birmingham
Nah, we’ll skip that as well.

Is it true that Nicky Butt once burnt your private parts with a teapot? How did you get him back and did you see the funny side... eventually?
Brian Hempel, London
Skip through that too. Whatever happens in the dressing room should stay there.

Who is the best defender you’ve played behind?
Mario Marmeli, Folkestone
Steve Bruce and Gary Pallister were the best defenders I’ve played with as a partnership, but individually I would say the best was Jaap Stam. I love that answer: it keeps everyone happy, but it is the truth. Brucey and Pally were the best pair – it is beyond me why they never played for England together. Between them, they had a great ?understanding.

Jaap Stam never really had a partner – it was supposed to be Ronny Johnsen, but he was injured a lot so it was Henning Berg, Wes Brown, Roy Keane or Gary Neville – but it never seemed to bother Jaap. He was a tower of strength; he was so quick and strong. In the 1999 Treble-winning season, I think he proved himself as one of the best ever defenders. He was awesome.

Can you understand United fans like myself who are a little disappointed that you left us saying that you didn’t want to play in England anymore, but then came back?
Frank Sheffield, Stockport
No, absolutely not, because I never said I didn’t want to play in England. What I said when I left United was that I didn’t want to play that amount of games anymore.

I feel insulted by this question – that he can be disappointed in me. After what I did for Manchester United I should be able to do whatever I like in the future without him being disappointed in me. I left United for very clear reasons, and I’ll give him a simple example: City have played 34 games so far this season, and I haven’t played in all of them, whereas Manchester United have so far played 56 games. This is why I left. Physically, I was worn out after doing that for eight years, and I made that very clear to the United fans. I have always had a good rapport with the United fans, they always thank me for what I did, and this is one of the first sour grapes things I have heard.

Why do you think it didn’t work out for your successor at Old Trafford, Mark Bosnich?
Harry Dale, Altrincham
No, I don’t want to go into that.

You missed out on the derby at Old Trafford this season, but what sort of reception do you think the Stretford End would have given you? And would you have been disappointed if it hadn’t been good?
Louise Howden, Worsley
I actually think they would have given me a good reception. I made it as far as 10 minutes into the warm-up before I got injured and they were great to me. While I was in and around Old Trafford, there was no problem. There is a mutual respect between me and the United fans.

Is Kevin Keegan the great motivator he’s portrayed as?
Will Gains, Hulme
Definitely. He prides himself on knowing his players, finding out everything about them, so that he can work with them individually and get the best out of them. He’s the one manager who will take in big names with a bit of trouble about them and get something out of them. He is so good at that.

The thing is, you can’t argue with him – he’s done everything in the game. He was twice the best player in Europe, and he has a cabinet full of trophies and medals. You'd better listen to him!

Who do you rate as the best goalkeeper in the world today?
Tim Slaney, Oxford
Oh, that is a hard one. There are a lot of good goalkeepers out there, but there isn’t one that stands out as being exceptional. You see some good performers during the World Cup and the Champions League, though. I do like Iker Casillas from Real Madrid.

Was that reconciliation with Ian Wright last summer on the BBC just for the cameras, or did you really make up? Is there no bitterness between you at all?
Graham Sizeman, Broxbourne
There was never anything serious between us. I always respected him for his ability, though I have to admit that he was the one guy I always wanted to stop, because he scored from everywhere. I think he looked at me and thought the same thing: "This is the guy I want to score against." So that built up an atmosphere between us, but there was never anything nasty.

I know that a few things happened on the pitch, but as far as I was concerned it was never a problem. It was outside things, not related to us, that made the whole thing blow up. Somebody in Croydon reported me to the police for making racist remarks towards Ian. This person – I don’t know who they are – had been reading my lips and reported me to the police. The FA knew about it, then we had the game with the infamous tackle [at Highbury], and the day after that the FA chose to publish it. That was completely ridiculous. Then it was thought that Schmeichel and Ian Wright were enemies, but we never were.

During the [2002] World Cup, we were both pundits for the BBC. I only had 10 days with them before I went on holiday, and it just so happened that Ian and I were never in the studio at the same time, but someone at the Daily Mail wrote a story saying the BBC were keeping us apart. When I saw that I met with Ian at the hotel and said, "This is ridiculous – let’s do a show together." He agreed, and fortunately we had the chance to do the England v Denmark game. There was never anything in it, and we even enjoyed a game of golf together in the summer. Who won? I can’t remember. OK, I probably lost!

I hear you're a big jazz fan. If you wanted to introduce a friend to jazz, where would you recommend they start?
David Key, Birmingham
That is impossible to answer! There are many, many different areas of jazz. Do you like pianos? I love pianos, I like trios, bass and drums, but if you don’t like pianos then there is no point in introducing you to that kind of jazz. Do you like trumpets? If there was a piece of music that I really, really love, like for instance Oscar Peterson’s Hymn To Freedom – that is a fantastic piece of music – I would then play that to you and convince you how good it is, and point out moments in the music and say, "Listen to that" and explain what I’m hearing.

Who are your non-footballing heroes?
Jim Mahoney, Dublin
I suppose most people won’t know who they are, but my heroes are drummers, and specifically drummers who have played with Sting since he left The Police. Guys like Omar Hakim, Manu Katché and Vinnie Colaiuta. I would go and buy videos of just these guys and watch them. I have always felt a lot of empathy with drummers because it’s a bit like being a goalkeeper: you’re behind the rest of your team.

What is the best save you ever made from a technical point of view? And what was the most important save?
Jason Boons, Birmingham
In the Premiership, I would have to agree with the people who voted my save from John Barnes as the Premier League’s save of the decade. We were playing Newcastle at St James’ Park and I got across the goal to keep his header out.

But my best save of all time was away to Rapid Vienna in the Champions League in December 1996. There was a lot of fuss made about it, and it was even on the news. It was compared to Gordon Banks’ save from Pele, which I consider the greatest save ever, so that was the biggest honour of all.

As for my most important save, it was for Denmark against Greece in the final qualifying game for the 1998 World Cup. At 0-0 in the last minute, we were going straight through, but if they scored we would have to go into a difficult play-off. At that point a Greek player got clean through and went one-on-one with me. I just spread myself, saved it and we went to the World Cup.

Do you think David Beckham and Ryan Giggs will move abroad at some point?
Eileen Burton, Nottingham
If I could give them one bit of advice, it would be, "Don’t move abroad." The talk is about them moving to Spain or Italy, but those countries have a completely different football culture to England. And at the age Ryan and David are now, I think they would be very, very disappointed if they moved. I moved abroad from England and I was very disappointed. That’s why I moved back. I didn’t enjoy it.

Both of them have been at United all their careers, they have grown up with the English system and how your life works around the club. In Spain or Italy you play on Sunday nights, sometimes as late as 10 o’clock at night. That means you’re away all weekend in a hotel, no matter whether you’re at home or away, and that really killed me.

Had they been a lot younger, maybe 23 or 24, they might have been able to adapt, but Giggsy is nearly 30 and Becks is 28, and that is very late in a footballer’s life to suddenly start all over again.

Their frustration at how things are done in these countries would show in games, and if you’ve signed for a lot of money and you’re not performing they will crucify you. They will do it at games and in the city, where they will come up to you wherever you are and tell you, more than they would in this country. I would really advise them against moving.

In your book, you were critical of the media. Now you’ve done a bit of TV, have your views changed?
Joanna Ecclestone, Chester
I wasn’t critical of the whole media; I just illustrated one example of how they can take something out of context and make you the innocent victim of their fantasies.

I really enjoy my media work with the BBC and The Sunday Times. I set out to be as objective and positive as possible, and I hope I can continue that. As a player, it is difficult to be very critical of another player because I might be playing them soon. For example, I covered the Arsenal v Chelsea FA Cup quarter-final at Highbury, and Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink missed two big chances that could have changed the game. Now, if I say on television that he’s lost it, then we play them two weeks later and he scores a hat-trick, then that is my credibility out of the window.

I have to be realistic in what I’m saying, and because I have limitations in what I can say I’m learning about TV punditry the right way. If you can be critical, but constructive, positive and objective, that is the right way. Too many pundits think that if they’re controversial they’ll get more work.

Do you think you’ll try your hand at managing when you finally hang up your gloves?
Chris Heywood, Essex
Yes, I will definitely try to be a manager. At the moment I don’t have a plan. Ideally, I want to take the relevant badges, and spend some time travelling around and observing coaches. It is all very well being with ?managers like Fergie and Keegan, but I think I should go around and have a look at other places. Brian Kidd used to do that a lot: go to Juventus, Ajax and Real Madrid, get a feel for the place and try to be inspired.

Who’s the best finisher you’ve ever been up against?
Lars Erik Pedersen, Macclesfield
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. He used to drive me mad in training! In games, I would have to say Alan Shearer, Matt Le Tissier and Robbie Fowler. What made them good? They all scored past me!

Interview: Sam Pilger. Portrait: Sam Wood. From the August 2003 issue of FourFourTwo.

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