It’s fair to say that Villa have had some turmoil in recent times where goalkeepers are concerned. Kalinić had a calamitous spell, Steer produced heroics, but isn’t considered a topflight number one, Nyland has veered from league cup leading man to complete disaster, Heaton has been out of action for a lengthy period, and Reina enjoyed mixed fortunes. Reflecting on the chaos, and with Emi Martínez the latest incumbent, it felt appropriate to make this player focus all about one of our goalkeeping alumni.
It might seem odd to select a player who spent a solitary season at Villa Park as my focal point, but the man in question is no ordinary individual. Peter Schmeichel for me, defined premier league goalkeeping, a colossus of a goalkeeper, a colossus of a man, the great Dane himself. Even though considerably past his best in claret and blue, Schmeichel was still a force to be reckoned with. Seeing Schmeichel standing in the goalmouth in front of the Holte End was a thrill. Here was a man who I had seen terrify opposition forwards and even his own defenders, a man who had held aloft the European Cup on Manchester United’s greatest of great nights in the Camp Nou, and now here he was, ours.
His time at Villa was fleeting, but that’s not to say it wasn’t fun. October 2001 saw Villa go 3-0 down at Goodson Park, before Mustapha Hadji reduced the deficit. There was to be no successful fightback, but the game will live long in the memory for the man mountain Schmeichel firing in a late volley, and becoming the first goalkeeper to trouble the Premier League scorers in the process.
That was the joy of Schmeichel, doing things a keeper couldn’t and shouldn’t do (11 career goals in total), larger than life in that garish light blue NTL number, incidentally, the only goalkeeper shirt I ever owned.
To have Peter Schmeichel MBE marshalling our defence gave me a sense of Villa’s place in the hierarchy of English football. Aston Villa were one of a select few clubs worthy of hosting the homecoming of the high priest of Premier League goalkeeping.
As Villa look to consolidate their place at the top table and re-establish themselves as a genuine force, you can be sure that Emi Martínez and co have been influenced in some way by the great Dane who came before them, such is his legacy in English football. I for one feel privileged to have called him a Villan, even for the briefest of periods, and I’ll treasure the memories.
Up the Villa!