Kids around the world dream of one day playing for Manchester United.
Anders Lindegaard counted himself among those dreamers, sitting on his couch with his father watching Peter Schmeichel keeping goal for United when they miraculously topped Bayern Munich in the 1999 UEFA Champions League.
After playing eight seasons in Denmark and Norway, the 27-year-old goalkeeper is now living out those dreams with the Red Devil on the crest of his kit.
He was able to reach that goal in part because of a key morsel of advice from one his former coaches – and a former Sounder – Bruce Rioch.
T-CUP – Think Clearly Under Pressure.
“That is a very important lesson to learn as a football player,” Lindegaard said. “Especially playing for Manchester United and being a goalkeeper at Manchester United. The mental pressure is extreme and you have to deal with it.”
That came to particular use in his second match for Manchester United. Since coming over in a winter transfer from Aalesunds FK of Norway, he’d already played an FA Cup match at Southampton, winning 2-1 in front of 28,792 in the fourth round match. However, nothing could compare to the pressure he would face in the fifth round match against Crawley Town at Old Trafford.
Manchester United’s home stadium was packed with 74,778 fans who were getting their first look at one of the players in line to take the place of one of United’s two retiring legends. With goalkeeper Edwin Van Der Sar announcing his impending retirement, all eyes turned to Lindegaard to see how he could handle the glitz and strain of playing for the best club in the world.
He responded in kind with a 1-0 win over the up-and-coming club who was then in England’s fifth division in Conference National – they have since been promoted to Football League 2 after running away with the league championship in 2010-2011.
“Playing at Old Trafford for the first time, you don’t really know how you’re going to react,” he said. “The best thing about that game for me was that it was against lower-division team in the FA Cup, Crawley, no disrespect to Crawley, and I didn’t have a lot to do. The thing that pleased me the most was the good feeling I had during the game and after the game. I didn’t feel very affected by the situation. I just enjoyed the game.”
He wouldn’t see any more time in the tournament, though, as a knee surgery knocked him out of action for five weeks. United went on to fall in the semifinals to Manchester City.
The appearance came after nearly a year and a half of buildup for the Denmark international.
While playing with Aalesund, Lindegaard heard that Manchester United was interested in him, but figured he was just on a long list of potential backups to the venerable Van Der Sar.
“In the beginning, I figured they could choose anyone they want in the world and they had a list of 100 or 200 goalkeepers,” he said. “It got more and more concrete the closer we got to closing the deal.”
A year – and a lot of worrying – later, he found himself training shoulder-to-shoulder with Van Der Sar at Carrington, learning the tricks of the trade from a keeper who he had watched so many times on television with his father.
He already knew what it took to be a professional, but it was something quite different to be a professional playing for Manchester United. That was a lesson that Lindegaard learned after United took a loss and a draw in consecutive matches.
“Our next training session should have been to get a positive light back into the team again. But the training was very negative and it was a bad atmosphere,” he recalls.
After training, he sat next to Van Der Sar dumbfounded.
“What is wrong here Edwin?” he asked.
“Anders, what do you expect?” Van Der Sar snapped back. “This is Manchester United. It’s expected to win every time and when you don’t win the atmosphere grows bad.”
It wasn’t the first lesson he learned with United and it certainly won’t be the last.
Another surely will come Wednesday night at 7 p.m. PT when 67,000 fans pack CenturyLink Field for a friendly between Manchester United and the Sounders FC televised on Fox Soccer. Most of those fans will likely be wearing rave green and cheering for the hometown side, an unusual phenomenon for the most popular team in the world.
“Of course it’s going to be an experience - a new audience on a new continent - but it’s just an aspect that you’re used to at Manchester United when you play away. Manchester United is a club that you either hate or you love. You’re pretty used to that scene. It’s just a daily aspect of playing for this club,” he said. “It’s going to be a big experience.”