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Monday, 26 November, 2001, 14:24 GMT
Fabien's follies
BBC Sport Online investigates the current crisis facing Manchester United's accident-prone keeper Fabien Barthez.
BBC Sport Online chief football writer Phil McNulty investigates the background to Manchester United goalkeeper Fabien Barthez's list of expensive blunders.

Click to see Barthez hand Arsenal victory

Fabien Barthez has been decorated with winners' medals in the World Cup, Euro 2000 and the European Cup.

So it is a sign of his current reduced circumstances that the flamboyant France goalkeeper's latest public guises have been portrayed as a clown and a computer-enhanced copy of television characters "The Clangers".

It is a humiliating state of affairs for the man whose preferred image is of the multi-millionaire world-class goalkeeper with his supermodel girlfriend at his side.

Barthez has had the previously permanent smile wiped from his face by a collection of high-profile blunders that have tainted his reputation at the world's best goalkeeper.

And the man Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson saw as the natural heir to the Old Trafford throne occupied by Peter Schmeichel now looks a sorrowful successor.

Barthez - flat out
Barthez's brilliance in sparing the embarrassment of United's woeful defence at Arsenal has been forgotten amid the horror of his performance in the last 10 minutes.

He has been engulfed by criticism for the wayward kick and the sloppy handling that gifted Thierry Henry two late goals.

And coming hard on the heels of two equally calamitous errors against Deportivo La Coruna, it must surely leave Ferguson pondering the unthinkable - the possibility of dropping Barthez.

Barthez played in the manner born to Schmeichel last season, but received criticism when he stood motionless as Paolo Di Canio scored West Ham United's winner in an FA Cup tie at Old Trafford.

And now comparison between the two goalkeeping giants appear almost odious.

Ferguson must question Barthez
Schmeichel had his moments of madness at Old Trafford, but he was a gigantic presence who won high-pressure games, whereas Barthez has now cost United games.

And to make matters worse, Schmeichel has been in his usual imperious form after returning to the Premiership with Aston Villa.

The Dane, however, did not have the dubious pleasure of playing behind the current Manchester United defence.

It is a shadow of the rearguards dominated by men of the influence and calibre of Steve Bruce, Gary Pallister and Jaap Stam.

And their confidence was lifted by having Schmeichel as their insurance policy.

Barthez's problems may actually lie in his determination to cover the errors of those in front of him, particularly his close friend and former France colleague Laurent Blanc.

And his desire to prove his worth as successor Schmeichel may also be weighing heavily on his shoulders as he attempts to plug leaks in porous United defence.

Blanc has cut a pedestrian and occasionally desperate figure since his surprise arrival from Inter Milan as a replacement for Stam, and his nervous performances have pushed Barthez further to the fore.

Schmeichel - outstanding
Throw in the carelessness of Gary Neville and the troubles of Wes Brown and Mikael Silvestre, and it is clear United's problems are not simply confined to a maverick goalkeeper.

These may be the reasons behind Fabien's follies, but there can be no excuses for the crass errors that have crept into his game this season.

Manchester United set great store in Barthez, who arrived at Old Trafford with a glittering reputation and damage to repair after Ferguson's ill-fated and short associations with Mark Bosnich and Massimo Taibi.

But he is now in danger of falling, somewhat undeservedly, into the column reserved for United's calamity keepers.

And Barthez's ability to pull himself out of his current crisis may hold the key to the entire shape of Sir Alex Ferguson's final season at Manchester United.

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Mark Perryman, Football Philosophy Company
"He often takes risks; which is often the definition of a great goalkeeper"

Columbian stopper Rene HiguitaCareless hands
Goalkeeping howlers over the years
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