YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections


Howard to Need English Patience

June 01, 2003|GRAHAME L. JONES

Tim Howard, the goalkeeper of the future for the United States and already the established third choice behind Brad Friedel and Kasey Keller, apparently is going to be joining Manchester United.

The ramifications of such a move are fourfold:

* It's tremendous for Howard, a 6-foot-3, 210-pound keeper from North Brunswick, N.J., who, according to one report, will thereby become an instant millionaire at 24.

* It's not quite as tremendous for Major League Soccer, which will lose one of its higher profile players for a sum variously reported at $2.5 million to $3 million.

* It's not at all tremendous for the New York/New Jersey MetroStars and their coach, Bob Bradley. Losing Howard will be a significant blow to a team that finally, after seven years, has begun to show signs of life.

* It's just another pawn being pushed across a chessboard for Manchester United. In the greater scheme of things, Howard's signing will not even be close to the most newsworthy move Coach Alex Ferguson makes during the off-season. Once he sells David Beckham, grabbing Brazilian World Cup winner Ronaldinho from Paris Saint-Germain will be Ferguson's headline-maker. Wait and see.

This last point is the one Howard should examine closely. He is going from big fish, small pond to small fish, big pond. He is not, repeat not, going to step straight into a starter's role at the English Premier League champion. Not a chance.

In fact, it might be years, if ever, before Howard sees his name penciled into any Manchester United's starting lineup other than a friendly match.

Howard is a fine goalkeeper and an engaging personality. He might be the most promising keeper the U.S. has produced in years, but he simply is not experienced enough at the highest level for Ferguson to take such a chance. Not when Ferguson's stated intent is to regain the European Champions Cup next season.

One look at the Premier League experiences of Keller and Friedel should tell Howard all he needs to know.

As late as last season, after a dozen years in England and Spain, Keller still was battling to be the first-choice goalkeeper at Tottenham Hotspur. It was only this season that he made the position his own.

And these days' Spurs are a small blip on the soccer radar compared to Manchester United.

Friedel, meanwhile, never could become the acknowledged starter at Liverpool, even though he deserved it, and it was not until he moved to the Blackburn Rovers that his career in England took off. This season he was the Premier League's goalkeeper of the year.

But Howard doesn't have Keller's 13 years, or Friedel's six years in Europe. His resume reads: four-plus years in MLS. Manchester United is not going to put a relative rookie between the posts. Just look at its recent history:

When United signed Danish keeper Peter Schmeichel from Brondby in Denmark in 1991, it cost the club only $960,000.

The next year, Schmeichel's play helped propel Denmark to its first European Championship title and, during his nine seasons, at Old Trafford, Schmeichel was the unquestioned starter as United won the European Champions Cup (in 1999), the Premier League title five times, the English F.A. Cup three times and the English League Cup once.

When Schmeichel retired from soccer last month at 39, Kevin Keegan, England's former captain and now Manchester City's coach, called him "the best goalkeeper the Premier League has ever known."

And Howard is supposed to step into those shoes?

Well, not directly. When Schmeichel left Manchester United for Sporting Lisbon in Portugal in 1999, Ferguson fumbled around trying to find a replacement. One notable failure, among several, was Australian national team goalkeeper Mark Bosnich.

Finally, in May 2000, Ferguson reached across the English Channel and signed Fabien Barthez from AS Monaco for $12.5 million.

All Barthez had done was win the World Cup with France in 1998, his bald head and eccentric style making him one of the most popular figures at the France '98 tournament.

With Barthez in the nets, Manchester United has piled up more silverware, including the Premier League title this season, but the Frenchman's penchant for a lively and very public lifestyle has been less a problem for United than his sometimes glaring mistakes in the nets.

When Manchester United was ousted from the Champions League by Real Madrid last month, the writing was on the goal post for the 31-year-old Barthez: Adieu.

"It seems I am not good enough," he told an English tabloid, the Sun, after being dropped in favor of backup Roy Carroll, who is the national team backup for Northern Ireland.

Carroll, though, apparently, is not considered good enough to step up permanently. In the last few weeks, speculation has been rife in Europe over who will replace Barthez, even though the Frenchman still has four years remaining on his contract.

Los Angeles Times Articles