If Sir Alex Fergsuon struggled with one thing during his Manchester United career, it was replacing the great Peter Schmeichel.
On the back of the remarkable treble season of 1998-99, Ferguson faced the unenviable task of finding United’s next number one after eight years with the greatest ‘keeper of his generation.
The Scotsman rattled through the likes of Massimo Taibi, Roy Carroll, Tim Howard, Raimond van der Gouw, Nick Culkin, Ricardo, Andy Goram and Paul Rachubka before Edwin van der Sar eventually emerged as successor.
One man who had looked to solve the issue far sooner, though, proved to be Fabien Barthez.
Procured for £7.8 million in 2000, the Frenchman had freshly captured the European Championship with France having won the World Cup two years previously with a clean against Ronaldo and Brazil.
The logic of the move was certainly sound but the eccentric shot stopper didn’t take well to Premier League football, despite accumulating 139 appearances.
Barely standing at six foot and proving no stranger to a clanger, Barthez became and remains notorious in the English game for all the wrong reasons.
Furthermore, his behaviour off the pitch also left a lot to be desired. It’s perhaps surprising that Ferguson – famous for ruling with an iron fist – signed Barthez in light of this.
This is especially the case when you consider the Scotsman once ordered David Bellion to sell his car after pulling up to Carrington in a Bentley. Ouch.
However, the United boss had a rather different reaction when he caught Barthez puffing on a cigarette the day before a game in a swanky restaurant.
The brilliant anecdote has been brought to light by Eckhard Krautzun who was with Ferguson at the time and remained close friends during their respective careers.
Barthez was sitting in the corner of said Manchester restaurant with his arm around his girlfriend and a lit cigarette in his hand when Krautzan and Fergson entered. Unsurprisingly, the Frenchman then attempted to conceal the offending item.
He didn’t escape the eagle-eyes of Fergie, mind.
Yet the Scotsman simply declared: “Don’t worry, son! You can smoke, I saw that you were smoking. You’re going to play tomorrow anyway!” per Krautzun.
Perhaps Ferguson’s response just goes to show how dire United’s goalkeeping situation was at the time with Barthez not exactly displaying a wholly professional attitude.
The 46-year-old was eventually offloaded in 2004, turning out for Marseille and Nantes before yet another World Cup final appearance and retiring the following year.
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