Safe pair of hands required for latest Ferguson rebuild
After the perch had been occupied and Manchester United had secured their 19th title on Saturday, Alex Ferguson was in such ebullient form he put aside his long-imposed post-match ban and actually spoke to members of the press.
Sitting in the media conference room at Ewood Park, he beamed with understandable satisfaction. Not that he was necessarily being entirely candid with his interrogators.
"Are you joking?" he said, when asked if he had been nervous about the way his goalkeeper, Tomasz Kuszczak, had played. "Not at all."
If Ferguson remained calm while watching the twitchy Pole twice almost present Blackburn's forwards with the ball during a horribly anxious performance, then he was the only person of a red disposition in the ground who did.
The United fans banked in the Darwen End behind Kuszczak certainly made known their disquiet. The moment he made his second nervy fumble, they broke into a pointed chant, loudly singing out the rested Edwin van der Sar's name.
Whatever the outward show of confidence, Kuszczak's effort will have reminded the manager of this: even as he tucks his record-breaking championship medal into his trophy cabinet, he knows he has significant work to do if he wants to further his collection.
If there is not to be one more year of Van der Sar (and the man himself has firmly resisted the sentimental lure of a retirement U-turn) then Ferguson's summer will be busy. He has to secure an adequate replacement.
One of the many qualities of Ferguson's time at United has been the ability to reconstruct his side even as they remain competitive. The scaffolding is often in view as the trophies pile up behind. But with a goalkeeper there is clearly not the same opportunity to integrate the new into the old as there is with outfield players.
In every way, 'keepers stand alone. And Ferguson has stuttered before when replacing a legendary custodian: Massimo Taibi, Mark Bosnich, Fabien Barthez, none of them proved adequate successors to Peter Schmeichel and United's competitiveness was reduced as a result.
Indeed, it was not until Van der Sar arrived in 2005 that the post-Schmeichel jitters were finally stilled. The Dutchman's displays this season have merely underlined the imperative of making the right choice in the search for a successor. Along with Nemanja Vidic and Ryan Giggs, Van der Sar was one of a trio of players most influential in securing this latest title win.
"We know the keeper we want," United chief executive David Gill said last week. "We have made the decision and I am sure we can get the deal done."
We can assume that the decision does not involve handing the No 1 jersey to Kuczczak. His contract runs out at the end of the season, and the likelihood is he will leave and sign for someone else. Provided he doesn't drop the pen. It is likely, too, that the man coming in will not be Manuel Neuer. The rumours emanating from Munich are that the Schalke 'keeper has already signed for Bayern.
After United's Champions League semi-final in Gelsenkirchen, where Neuer was outstanding, that might seem an opportunity missed for Ferguson. After the home leg, when he was twice culpable for United goals, it might represent a lucky escape.
Although there are those within the United coaching system who favour Van der Sar's compatriot Maarten Stekelenburg, the received wisdom around the club is that the decision made centres on Atletico Madrid's David de Gea.
But with Manchester City rising, Liverpool resurgent and Chelsea keen on revenge, the threat to United's hegemony next season is likely to be more sustained than it was this year. Ferguson knows he has little room to experiment in the present. Interesting times lie ahead between the posts at United. (© Daily Telegraph, London)