During Manchester United’s opening game of last season, alarm bells started ringing.
United led West Brom 1-0 at the Hawthorns, courtesy of an early Wayne Rooney strike, and looked in cruise control. Until a speculative effort from Shane Long slipped under the hands of United’s new number 1, and then from nowhere West Brom had pulled themselves level.
Welcome to English football David De Gea.
United went on to win the game 2-1, but all the talk after the game, from press, pundits and fans, was how was this young Spaniard going to replace legendary goalkeeper Edwin Van der sar?
De Gea looked nervous on crosses and somewhat lightweight. West Brom could sense it, the fans could sense it, and even Ferguson was chewing his Wrigleys faster than usual on the touchline.
After all, it was his decision to gamble £18 million on the 20-year-old Spaniard, who had impressed during his time at Atletico Madrid.
The West Brom error seemed to stick with De Gea for some time. Errors followed in the Champions league against Benfica and Basel, and the Spaniard had to pick the ball out of his net six times as United were mauled 6-1 by rivals Manchester City in October.
However, De Gea still found he had the backing of his manager, as Ferguson fumed there was an ‘agenda’ against his young goalkeeper. He told reporters last September:
“There’s obviously an agenda on De Gea. We’ve experienced that in the press for some reason. They seem desperate for the boy to fail.
“That’s the impression I get and I don’t understand it. It’s nothing to do with his age. They never did that with Petr Cech.”
Things were going to get worse before they got better for the young goalkeeper.
Perhaps the most glaring error of all came during the New Years Eve fixture at home to Blackburn Rovers, as De Gea wished Fergie a happy 70th birthday in the worst possible fashion, by getting brutally out muscled from a corner to allow Grant Hanley to bundle home a Blackburn winner.
It seemed Ferguson’s patience had finally run out, and Anders Lindergaard was drafted in as De Gea took his place on the substitutes bench.
At this point De Gea’s dream of being mentioned in the same breath as Edwin Van der Sar, had turned into the nightmare of being mentioned in the same breath as Massimo Taibi, until an injury to Lindegaard saw him re instated. He has not looked back.
De Gea went on to record nine clean sheets in his next 18 games, and produced a man of the match performance in the 3-3 draw with Chelsea at Stamford Bridge. A spectacular late save from a Juan Mata free kick was described by many as the save of the season.
De Gea ended the season with a 78% save percentage, which was in fact the highest of the 2011/2012 Premier League season. It begs the question as to whether De Gea was to blame for United’s defensive frailties in the early part of the season, or whether he was let down by his defenders on too many occassions.
United seemed to miss the physical presence of Vidic last season on some occasions more than others. They ended the season with their second best defensive record in Premier league history, but had days where they looked especially vulnerable.
They conceded three goals at Chelsea, three at Newcastle, three at home to Blackburn, another three at home to Atletico Bilbao, and of course six at home to Manchester City.
And David De Gea proved his worth on several occassions, making several fine and crucial saves during the second half of the season.
Ferguson’s ‘agenda’ comments are perhaps not entirely inaccurate. There was always going to be a bedding in period for De Gea, as there is with any foreign player.
The £18million price tag and the fact he was replacing a legend in Edwin Van Der Sar, was an exceptionally heavy burden to carry for a 20-year-old during his first few months in a foreign country.
Rival fans wanted him to fail, and the cruel world of goalkeeping meant every error was greeted with ironic cheers, and chants of ‘dodgy keeper’.
The statistics show that De Gea proved his worth in the second half of the season. With a year behind him, now is the time for Dea Gea to show everyone he is the “outstanding replacement for Edwin Van Der Sar” that his manager told everyone he would be.
You also feel he can only benefit from the return of Nemaja Vidic, and the opportunity to play behind a consistent centre back pairing. Rio Ferdinand, Chris Smalling, Jonny Evans and Phil Jones seemed to alternate on a weekly basis last season.
Everything seems in place for De Gea to build on the promise he showed in the second half of last season. The 2012/2013 season, is the time for the real David De Gea to stand up.