On this day: Peter Schmeichel returns to the Premier League

Retired Danish professional footballer Peter Schmeichel attends the final round of the 2013 Masters Tournament at Augusta National Golf Club on April 14, 2013
© Getty Images
Thirteen years ago today, former Manchester United goalkeeper Peter Schmeichel returned to the Premier League with Aston Villa.

When Peter Schmeichel held the Champions League trophy aloft in May 1999, it was believed that English football had seen the last of the veteran goalkeeper.

As he approached his 36th birthday, the Dane, who is widely regarded to be the best keeper to have ever appeared between the posts in the Premier League, was keen to wind down his career with a slower pace of football.

As such, he departed Manchester United, the club that he had served since 1991, to sign a two-year contract with Portuguese outfit Sporting Lisbon. He'd see out the terms of the deal in the capital city, but in 2001, the lure of England's top division would prove too strong for Schmeichel.

Now a free agent, he was tempted back to the Premier League 13 years ago today by Aston Villa manager John Gregory, who was in need of a keeper following the departure of his number one David James to West Ham United.

At 37, Schmeichel penned a 12-month deal at Villa Park, with the option of a further year if all parties agreed. It meant that having served Man United with such distinction - winning virtually every trophy on offer in the process - Schmeichel would be turning out against them.

Speaking about the connection with United upon his return, Schmeichel said: "It is going to be difficult for me but a lot of people around Manchester too. I still love United. No disrespect to Villa but I have so many fond memories of United and so many friends there, and I hope people respect my decision to come here."

Meanwhile, in terms of the move itself, he added: "I still think it is the best league in the world. I will not say I regretted going to Portugal but at times I have missed the atmosphere, the good play and the physical part of the game. I came to the conclusion I could knock them back anywhere except the Premiership and now I'm looking forward to a big challenge with Aston Villa."

He would actually come face to face with his former employers three times that season - twice in the Premier League and once in the FA Cup. Villa failed to record a victory against United in any of those encounters, losing twice and drawing once.

If fans of United found it strange seeing Schmeichel in a Villa strip, they would be hugely disturbed by the decision that he made in 2002. With his Villa contract expired, the 6'3" keeper, who became the first player in his position to score a Premier League goal during his brief stint in Birmingham, signed on with Manchester City.

Schmeichel would only spend a single term with City, though, before he opted to hang up his gloves for the final time as a five-time winner of the Premier League, three-time winner of the FA Cup and one-time lifter of the Champions League.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer celebrates scoring the winning goal in the Champions League final for Manchester United on May 26, 1999.
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