Stekelenburg not living up to Van der Sar comparisons, but not done yet either

Domestic cup competitions came into focus this week, with teams all over Europe vying to get into the final stages of knockout tournaments as the 2014-15 season races towards the midway point.

Of all the feats and achievements across the continent, one slightly forgotten name popped up to play the hero and help his new club through to the quarter-finals of the Coupe de la Ligue.

Maarten Stekelenburg was handed his first piece of competitive action for loan club Monaco on Wednesday night and proved his worth by saving the decisive spot-kick in a penalty shoot-out against Olympique Lyonnais to send the Stade Louis II outfit through to the next round.

For the 32-year-old the game was his first since March 8, as the Dutchman has cut a forgone figure on Leonardo Jardim’s bench this term as understudy to Danijel Subašić.

Once adjudged amongst Europe’s top goalkeepers, Stekelenburg’s career has taken a number of steps in the wrong direction over the last couple of years; instead of playing a key role for a major club and his country he has been withdrawn from the limelight.

The comparisons between Stekelenburg and legendary retired Holland stopper Edwin van der Sar are considerable and the now-Monaco custodian looked set to follow in his illustrious compatriot’s sizeable and success-laden footsteps – up until recently.

Both custodians cut their teeth at Ajax, featuring in the side’s first-team for nine seasons apiece.

When it became clear that they had outgrown the Eredivisie, both Van der Sar and Stekelenburg opted for a switch to Serie A.

However, the similarities do not stop there.

Maarten StekelenburgNeither Juventus or Roma proved the ideal location to further the Dutchmen’s careers, but both stayed in Italy for two seasons before surprisingly signing for modest London outfit Fulham. They were both 30 years old when they put pen-to-paper with the Craven Cottage side.

When Van der Sar retired from the Oranje national set-up as the nation’s most-capped player in 2008, Stekelenburg stepped into the breach and was his country’s first-choice and has represented the Netherlands on 54 occasions.

This is where the comparisons start to fade away.

After signing for Fulham the rest of Van der Sar’s career was the epitome of success; more than 120 Premier League appearances over four years at Craven Cottage saw him earn a move to Manchester United where four league titles and a Champions League medal followed.

Stekelenburg has enjoyed contrasting luck with the Cottagers, despite a bright start.

His debut on the first weekend of the 2013-14 campaign provided promise but also injury. The Dutchman pulled off a number of outstanding saves to play a part in Fulham’s 1-0 away victory at Sunderland before being replaced in the second half due to a shoulder knock.

Injuries took their toll at Craven Cottage, while when countryman René Meulensteen was replaced by the erratic Felix Magath, Stekelenburg found himself out of favour.

With Fulham relegated last term from the English top-flight, the Dutchman has left for a season-long loan at Monaco having only started 19 Premier League games in a disappointing stint; it looks unlikely that he will add to the tally.

Fortunes have not improved since the switch to Ligue 1 as Jardim has preferred Croatian Subašić in his starting XI, but Stekelenburg’s midweek heroics show that he is not ready to pale away into insignificance just yet.

At 32, it is certainly not the end of the road for the talented Dutch stopper but Stekelenburg needs to play regularly if he is to end his career on a positive note.

His botched spell in England meant he was overlooked by Louis van Gaal for Holland’s World Cup squad in the summer, with Jasper Cillessen, another Ajax stopper, the nation’s first-choice.

The most important thing for Stekelenburg is to find an environment where he is valued again and this will most likely be achieved by a permanent transfer to a new club in the summer.

Stekelenburg’s achievements in the game are set to fall considerably short of those of Van der Sar, but given a consistent chance there is no reason why the giant stopper can’t get back to his best for a trusting employer and potentially add to his 54 international caps.

By
I am a freelance football journalist from Northern Ireland living in Broome in Western Australia. I have worked for top media outlets such as FourFourTwo, goal.com, Soccerlens, Football Fancast and Here is the City. I am a lifelong and long-suffering Tottenham fan. Follow me on Twitter at @90MinsOnline
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