Peter Schmeichel: The Manchester United Goalkeeper Who Broke All the Rules to Succeed

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Peter Schmeichel shouldn’t have been as good as he was. He broke nearly every commonly taught aspect of goalkeeping. Gifted with an out of this world amount of athleticism, he was the Tom to everyone else’s Jerry. It was almost comedic how he managed to make so many different, spectacular saves. Whatever the occasion, Schmeichel was up to the task, and then some.

The proof is in the medals. At his insurmountable peak, Schmeichel played for Manchested United from 1991-99. Under Sir Alex Ferguson, Schmeichel won the Premier League five times, the FA Cup three times, and wore the captain’s armband as he lifted the Champions League trophy in his final game for Manchester United in 1999, completing the club’s famous treble-winning season. Schmeichel also dominated his way into international history, winning an unexpected European Championship with Denmark in 1992, and anchoring Denmark’s best-ever World Cup performance: a trip to the quarter-finals in 1998.

Always aggressive
The Danish goalkeeper walked a fine line between being aggressive and reckless, only redeemed by how long he played at an elite level. Had he topped out at 29 or 30, Schmeichel would be another dime-a-dozen keeper who was once quick but couldn’t hold up. Instead, he fearlessly approached the game by putting attackers on the defensive until he was 40 years old, playing for more years the top-flight—first for Sporting in Portugal, then for Aston Villa and Manchester City in the Premier League.

Schmeichel held a breath-holdingly high line, especially considering he wasn’t a sweeper-keeper. In one versus one situations he would quickly and efficiently close the gap, always increasing the pressure on the attacker. You’ve heard of great strikers being composed, right? Not on Schmeichel’s watch. No sir.

On loose balls he was crazed and focused enough to ALWAYS end up with the ball in his hands, by sheer aggression and determination. There was no other conceivable outcome. All of which was done with unpredictable technique.

Breaking the rules

Watch the video above (it’s been set to play at 3:28) ... the final save is not even close to proper technique. But it worked for Peter Schmeichel.

He should not able to spring as much as he does with such a wide jumpset. One of the first thing a young goalkeeper is taught is to stay away from mirroring his stance. If a goalkeeper’s feet are farther apart than his shoulders, it’s tougher to push off with both feet and dive out. Typically, another step is required from the foot nearest the ball to step in (away from the ball) in order to move out, thus limiting the goalkeeper’s dive.

Schmeichel overcame this limitation by having one of the biggest horizontal leaps in goalkeeping. Watch this clip (it’s set to play at 1:29) ...

Schmeichel pulls in a free-kick headed towards the corner then dives another two feet past the past at the height of the crossbar. For fans not familiar with what a goalkeeper’s dive should look like, Schmeichel is the equivalent of Michael Jordan’s free-throw line dunk or Wile E. Coyote’s gravity defying run through air. It just doesn’t make sense.

Schmeichel versus strikers
For most goalkeepers, that would be enough, but Schmeichel was unbeatable in one verus one situations. Much credit is due to his lateral movement but also how active his hands always were. He was quick to move into position and while he would save with his body and legs when needed, they were second in priority to his hands. He wanted to outright deny the shooter a goal, not merely happen to be in the way. This is why he was so good at every type of save. The awkward, ricochet shots were not a problem because he was prepared for every angle and knew how to get his hands to each corner of the goal. Even on his own mess ups, he was quick enough to make another save on the ball before anyone else could get to it.

Need proof? The vide below is set to play at 4:30 …

Schmeichel’s career can best be summed up by a picture of a striker mid-curse, pulling his hair back in disbelief. While his mechanics weren’t textbook, Schmeichel had the mindset every goalkeeper of knowing every possible goal-scoring situation and know how to stop each one. Being a little sloppy in the process is not as important as the ball hitting the net. If there’s one thing that Peter Schmeichel has taught us, it’s that if you’re going to break the rules, you’re going to have to be one of the best in the world to get away with it.

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