Sander Westerveld: The Bomb

liverpools dutch goalkeeper sander westerveld

Player Profile: Sander Westerveld

Date of Birth: 23/10/1974

Height: 1.90 m (6 ft 3 in)

Position: Goalkeeper

National team: The Netherlands

International Caps: 6

Club Career

There’s a long list of players brave enough to have represented both sides of Merseyside. Gary Ablett and Peter Beardsley are the first names that spring to mind, while Nick Barmby and Abel Xavier are others that are well-used answers in this particular trivia question. However, few will know that Sander Westerveld falls into this select group of players too.

The Dutch goalkeeper is best known for being the last line of defence for the Liverpool team that clinched a famous cup treble in 2001. But did you know that he also signed for Everton on an emergency loan in the 2005/06 campaign? Granted, he only made two appearances for the Toffees, but it was enough to get him into the Red and Blue club.

Sander Westerveld is definitely one of those who falls into the cult hero status. It’s a little known fact that his £4 million transfer to Liverpool back in 1999 was a then British record for a goalkeeper. This fee has since been dwarfed by transfer of current Reds stopper Alisson Becker.

Liverpool boss Gérard Houllier was tasked with ridding Anfield of the ‘Spice Boys’ generation in the late 1990s. As he sought a replacement for current stopper David James, his head was turned by Westerveld who had helped unfashionable Dutch side Vitesse Arnhem qualify for Europe in the 1998/99 campaign.

At the time, the Reds were leaking goals for fun, so Westerveld was handed the objective of tightening things up at the back alongside another little known arrival from the Eredivisie, Sami Hyypiä

It’d be fair to say the new regime reaped instant rewards. In his first Premier League season, the Dutch shot-stopper claimed the title of conceding the least goals, letting in 13 fewer goals than the great David Seaman. The new, more pragmatic era at Anfield saw them return to European competition, a return that they were to take full advantage of.

Westerveld’s second season at Anfield would prove to be the most decorated campaign of his career. The 2000/01 Premier League table shows excellent progress with Liverpool moving up to third place. However, it was in the cup competitions where the Reds made their mark.

Houllier had the chance to win his first trophy in charge of Liverpool in the Worthington Cup final at the Millenium Stadium against Birmingham City. The Reds were hot favourites to claim the trophy, and all looked to be going smoothly thanks to Robbie Fowler’s stunning strike.

However, they were pegged back by Darren Purse’s penalty, which eventually meant that the destination of the trophy was to be decided from the spot. This is where Westerveld enjoyed his finest moment in a Liverpool shirt, saving penalties from Martin Grainger and Andrew Johnson to clinch the trophy.

Westerveld only had to wait three months for a crack at more silverware with the FA Cup final on the horizon. Liverpool faced a formidable Arsenal side with the likes of Thierry Henry, Robert Pires and Freddie Ljungberg leading a dangerous attack. The latter opened the scoring for a dominant Arsenal and the Gunners pushed for a second to kill off the game. This final will be known as Michael Owen’s finest hour in Liverpool red, but a decent amount of credit must go to Westerveld who produced a stunning stop at one-nil to deny Henry from point-blank range.

The finals came thick and fast and four days later Liverpool were in Dortmund to face little fancied (and little known) Spanish outfit Alavés. This was a final for goalkeepers to forget. Liverpool raced into an early 3-1 lead, but the plucky Spaniards fought their way back to 3-3 in no time with one of the goals being a free-kick that crept under the defensive wall. Westerveld had a personal night to forget but wasn’t to be denied his third winner’s medal in the space of four months as the Reds came out 5-4 victors.

As fast as his rise was at Liverpool, his fall was just as rapid. Westerveld became an easy target due to his less than commanding aerial presence in the box, and it all unravelled quickly following a glaring error against a physical Bolton Wanderers side. This was the beginning of the end for the Dutchman, and if it wasn’t yet evident to the player himself, it soon became crystal clear. 

What’s worse than seeing your manager sign a goalkeeper? That’s right, seeing him sign two. And in September of 2001 that’s exactly what happened when Houllier signed Chris Kirkland and Jerzy Dudek on the same day. This signalled the end to Westerveld’s time at Anfield and no sooner had his three medals settled into their Merseyside home, they were being uprooted for Spain.

Westerveld signed for La Liga side Real Sociedad and quickly became part of another remarkable story there. The little fancied club from San Sebastián challenged the dominance of Barcelona and Real Madrid in the 2002/03 La Liga season. The side – which featured the likes of Darko Kovačević, Nihat Kahveci and Xabi Alonso – mounted a serious title challenge, only missing out on the La Liga title to the Galacticos by two points.

After falling out of favour, Westerveld had an unsuccessful loan spell at Mallorca. Soon he found himself back in England with Portsmouth before his little known emergency loan spell at Goodison Park. 

He returned to Spain for a season with Almería before going back to his homeland to sign a contract with Sparta Rotterdam. The Dutchman then ventured to Italy to sign for Serie B club Monza before ending his career in South Africa with Ajax Cape Town.

Westerveld won’t be remembered as one of the greatest number ones that the Kop has ever seen due to his less than convincing aerial style. He will, however, always have those winner’s medals and more than enough impressive reflex saves to fill up his showreel.

International Career

There’s not an awful lot to report on when it comes to Sander Westerveld’s international career, simply because he was playing at the same time as one of the game’s all time greats in Edwin Van Der Sar. 

He was rewarded for his abilities, however, in the form of six international caps for the Netherlands. His debut came in 1999 in a 3-1 friendly defeat against Brazil but Westerveld did taste tournament football action in the dead rubber Euro 2000 group game against eventual winners France. 

Westerveld also made the Euro 2004 Netherlands squad. However, his last cap came in 2001 in a 0-0 friendly draw with Turkey.

Did You Know? Interesting facts about Sander Westerveld facts

– Sander Westerveld’s nickname was “The Bomb” due to the incredible height and distance he could get on his kicks. He would frequently entertain before matches by booting footballs into the crowd.

– He was more than aware of his growing reputation for errors during the end of his time at Liverpool. He once said: “Even my postman gets in on the act when he gives me my letters. ‘Watch you don’t drop them’, he says. I don’t like these comments, and they don’t exactly help your confidence either.”

– Having brought in two goalkeepers in one day, it is rumoured that Houllier actually relegated Westerveld to fifth choice as he even chose Pegguy Arphexad and Jorgen Nielsson ahead of him in a couple of European matches.