Edwin van der Sar is a tall Dutch goalkeeper for Manchester United. Wednesday night, Manchester United met Manchester City in the second leg of their Carling Cup semi-final. The Carling Cup is a knock-out competition for all of the teams in the top four tiers of English football. Upstart Manchester City has been an afterthought in Manchester, playing second fiddle to Manchester United. Furthermore, Cit hasn't won a major competition since the 1970s when they won the Carling Cup but City's new manager, Roberto Mancini has made winning this competition a priority.
To add to the drama, Manchester United opted not to purchase the rights to Carlos Tevez, who had played two seasons with the club. Tevez was snatched up by Manchester City and said that he felt that United didn't appreciate him. Winning the tie with United was a massive priority for him and he came up big in the first game, scoring twice. For most players, scoring twice against the team that rejected you would be enough, but not for Tevez. He decided to head over to the United sideline and make an obscene gesture at United's Gary Neville, who returned fire with a two fingered salute as Tevez celebrated one of his goals. The two exchanged pleasantries through the media ("Neville is a bootlicker") in the week up to the second leg at Old Trafford, United's homefield.
The stage was set for major drama. The first half was exciting but neither team scored. Manchester City pushed into United's end of the field and forced a corner kick. Craig Bellamy went to the corner to grab the ball. As he went to set it up, the United fans started throwing coins, bottles, and other stuff from the stands. Bellamy grabbed his head and went to the ground as more missiles reigned down from the crowd. That was when Van der Sar made his best save of the night. He raced over from his goal and stood between Bellamy and the crowd, shielding Bellamy from the thrown objects and stopped the crowd in their tracks. As quickly as the missiles started, they ended. Bellamy got up and headed back into the field of play as another player took the kick and Van der Sar went back to his goal.
It was a magnanimous moment from the United keeper that is rarely seen. When the US Men's National Team plays in Mexico, guards must hold up shields to protect anyone who has to head to the corner flag. I don't know that Van der Sar and Bellamy are friends but either way, having a highly respected player come to the aide of a bitter rival took a lot of courage and integrity. It is an act that will have positive repercussions because it sets a precedence of respect, even when it is a hated rival in an important game.
It is interesting to contrast Van der Sar with Gary Neville and Carlos Tevez.
Neville initiated things by saying that United were smart not to resign Tevez because his financial demands were too large. Tevez felt disrespected and used Neville's comments to motivate him for the first leg of the trip, in which Tevez scored two goals. While celebrating one of the goals, Tevez made a gesture at Neville as Neville warmed up on the sideline. Neville returned fire with a two-fingered salute (England's equivalent of "the bird"). Then, later in the week, Tevez called Neville a "boot-licker" and a "moron" before his Manager told him to shut up already.
While it makes for great drama, it is all very petty and superficial. There's not much depth to the man who is so easily disrespected or quick to react to petty gestures, however it takes a strong inner compass to stand up to your own fans to protect a vulnerable rival. That's what Edwin van der Sar did in his magnanimous moment. Fair play to Van der Sar.
Here's the video in full. The highlight is at the 11 minute mark.
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