The fee that Manchester United parted with last summer for David de Gea seemed reasonably understandable. Manuel Neuer’s fee paid by Bayern Munich set the bar, and like the German international, De Gea was a young talent with high-profile interest. But going into this season, there is still a great deal of doubt as to whether the Spaniard is ready to become the no.1 goalkeeper that United need him to be.
De Gea’s short time in the Atletico Madrid first team was one with extremely little pressure. He was unlikely to ever lose his spot permanently to Sergio Asenjo, and the media spotlight is much more intense at the club’s rivals Real Madrid. It’s also difficult to argue that he was ready when Manchester United came calling; his confidence and presence in goal was firmly in line with his age as a 20-year-old.
But it’s obvious that United were buying potential, rather than a ready-made keeper who was going to win them league titles. De Gea’s time on international duty with Spain, both this summer and last, has kept him on a steady path in further developing his talent. However, it’s still clear that the uneasiness is there. With De Gea in goal at the moment for both United and Spain, there is little of a commanding and confident goalkeeper.
That’s not to say he won’t develop into something of a star equal to what Manuel Neuer is and will continue to be. I’m not even going to examine his shot-stopping ability, as good as it is, because that’s to be expected of a goalkeeper. It always seemed a really unnecessary compliment for a player whose job is to stop the ball flying into the net. But clearly, United were not about to part with a fee closing on £20 million for a player who would not develop into an established goalkeeper for both them and his national side. Right now, however, it’s unlikely Anders Lindegaard is too concerned with the Spaniard keeping him out of the line up for a prolonged period of time.
The biggest vote of confidence De Gea can get is for Alex Ferguson to keep faith with the goalkeeper and keep him in net regardless of mistakes. Again, why invest in the youngster if he’s going to be planted on the bench for a handful of games following an error. De Gea is by no means a bad keeper, but he does need that comfort of knowing he’s firmly the no.1 choice in spite of his always likely mistakes. He needs to bulk up, but that’s hardly a problem over the long-term. Rather, he needs to be exposed to his own mistakes and given chances to put them right immediately instead of a whole month later.
It also seems that Lindegaard is the most reliable and steady of the two keepers at the moment. He’ll make mistakes, but he’s done well whenever called upon. The problem, though, is not the aggressive nature of competition coming from De Gea, but instead the weight of the transfer fee that more or less demands he start many of United’s games. And that may be a problem going into this season, where the price of his transfer becomes something that Ferguson needs to work around.
United’s goal will be in safe hands going forward, as both are young players for their position and with plenty of room for improvement. But the club will have to take the rough with the smooth on this one and learn to live with the always likely mistakes of De Gea.
I don’t see De Gea establishing himself as the first-choice option of the two going into the season, unless another injury comes along for Lindegaard. But it seems a much safer route to share the burden between both of them with near equal games over the course of the season. Age isn’t always a problem if the keeper is full of confidence and has a safe pair of hands. But De Gea still looks a little way off a comfortable and commanding goalkeeper for a top European club.