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FOOTBALL: TIM'S MY NEW SCHMEICHEL; FINDERS KEEPERS: American joins list of foreign shot-stoppers at Old Trafford Howard to grab No.1 spot from Barthez.

Byline: David Anderson

SIR ALEX FERGUSON last night made Tim Howard his No.1 goalkeeper and hailed him as the new Peter Schmeichel.

Howard will take over from Fabien Barthez in the Manchester United goal and Ferguson claims the American can be as big a success at Old Trafford as Schmeichel was.

Howard, 24, has signed a four-year deal with the Reds after completing his pounds 2.3million move from the New York/New Jersey Metro Stars yesterday and Ferguson feels he reminds him of the great Dane.

"There are similarities between him and Peter Schmeichel in terms of his speed, while his reflexes are also very, very quick," said the United boss. "He's also got a good presence and I'm nothing but very impressed with him.

"He's got the ability and he's got youth on his side. This is a different environment from soccer in the United States, but we said the same thing about Peter Schmeichel when he came from Denmark.

"There's always going to be a settling-in period and getting used to playing a different kind of football, but we saw what happened here with Peter."

Potential

Ferguson is not the only person at Old Trafford to see similarities between the pair and the club's goalkeeping coach Tony Coton was also quick to liken Howard to Schmeichel.

Ferguson said: "Tony identified him last summer through friends and during the season we asked for progress reports.

"Tony watched him play against Mexico and when he returned he simply said 'You've got to sign him'. Tony, in fact, believes Tim has the potential to get to the Schmeichel level.

"From that moment we have been chasing his signature and we're now delighted to have finally secured his transfer."

Ferguson has struggled to fill the chasm left by Schmeichel when he joined Sporting Lisbon in 1999. He has since tried seven different goalkeepers.

All have had varying degrees of success, but now in Howard he feels he has finally found the Dane's true successor.

Howard has been made aware of United's difficulties in replacing Schmeichel. Mark Bosnich, currently suspended after failing a drugs test, could not settle at Old Trafford and was shipped off to Chelsea, while Italian Massimo Taibi was shipped out after a series of blunders.

Even World Cup-winner Barthez has more doubters than supporters among the United fans and appeared on his way out when he was dropped for last season's title run-in.

Ferguson added: "I think the big thing is that Tim will be given his opportunity, but as you know a coach can't guarantee anyone his position. Only the player can do that himself.

"The main reason why we're bringing him here is to try to improve our situation and this is another step forward in doing that.

"We'll see how Tim develops. There's plenty of time for him."

Howard, who was won nine caps for the United States, was chuffed to be likened to Schmeichel, but claims he is just focused on playing well for his new club.

"It's flattering," he said. "His standards are so high it's nearly impossible to live up to them.

"I think I have some good tools and hopefully I can use them and exploit them and be successful. If such comparisons come then that's great, but that's not my main objective."

Howard's achievements are all the more commendable because he has struggled with Tourette's Syndrome since he was nine.

Howard claims he does not let it affect his football or his life and he said: "Dealing with it is no big shakes.

"It's very simple, although I couldn't really explain how I deal with it because it's just natural to me. It's never affected my career and it doesn't manifest itself that way."

Howard could barely believe he was finally a United player and he will make his debut next week during the Reds' four-match tour of the States, where they play friendlies against Celtic, Club America, Juventus and Barcelona.

"It's a fantasy really to even think of playing here," he said. "When the interest came about it was very humbling and exciting.

"I'm thrilled to have joined the best club in the world. There's no doubt about that and the stadium, the training ground and the people here show you just how first-class it all is."
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Title Annotation:Sport
Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Date:Jul 16, 2003
Words:719
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