Much has been written about Manchester United shot stopper David de Gea since his arrival at Old Trafford in 2011. Having already made 57 appearances in La Liga for Atletico Madrid, the expectations weighed heavy on the then 20-year-old’s shoulders to replace goalkeeper legend Edwin van der Sar. Now, two years later, the Spaniard is finally getting the recognition he deserves.
I always thought the criticism of de Gea was unfair. There seemed to be a general consensus that the young lad needed time to adapt to the roughness of the Premier League. United were going to drop points due to his mistakes that season. They knew it, they were prepared for it, and they took the hit because it would be worth it in the long run.
But then the media did what the media does. Ever since he conceded a soft 30-yard Edin Dzeko strike in the Community Shield the spotlight was on him, ready to stitch him up for every foot he set wrong. Despite the entire scenario being predicted, it was almost as if we were all surprised when it happened. Suddenly the predictability of the situation was forgotten. The question was, had United paid too much for an average goalkeeper?
Granted, de Gea was brutally exposed for his lack of aerial authority on several occasions, most notably in the 1-1 away draw to Stoke early in the season. Tony Pulis’ signature aerial bombardment proved a stern test, and the lanky stopper failed to control his box as Rory Delap’s long throws rained down on him. Throughout the season this inspired other teams to have a go at de Gea – yet, United were only 10 highly dramatic seconds away from claiming the title.
Sir Alex Ferguson writes in his newly released biography that he always built his teams from the back. His philosophy was that with a strong defence, you’d always have a chance. A quick calculation proves that a clean sheet gives you at least one point, and makes you highly likely of claiming all three. Therefore, Fergie was eager to avoid experiencing the same situation he had after Peter Schmeichel’s departure, where it took nearly six years to fill the void left by the great Dane. Sir Alex identified young David de Gea as the perfect long-term replacement for van der Sar, and decided to give him the vote of confidence.
And now it’s paying off with interest.
United have had a slow start to the season, but are starting to build momentum. In both their last Premier League victories de Gea made crucial saves to keep his team in the game. Legend Schmeichel even told Sky Sports the save at 0-1 against Southampton is one of the best he’s ever seen. And that means something coming from him.
So when Manchester United goalkeeper coach Chris Woods tells the Daily Mail that he believes Dave the Save will one day he the world no.1, I choose to give him my vote of confidence. In terms of pure potential, there is little evidence he lacks any attributes. With a leap that looks more like a rocket launch, and accurate distribution skills, de Gea is in line to take over for the out of favour Real Madrid star Iker Casillas between the Spanish sticks somewhere in the near future.
He still has a way to go, though, as a keeper’s main task is not to commit mistakes. Authority in the box on corners is still be an issue, and he does not yet have the immense presence van der Sar and Schmeichel generated to their back line. But for a Manchester United defensive line-up that is currently undergoing a dramatic transition under David Moyes, with the Scot looking to replace Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic, de Gea could prove to be the point of reference for the Red Devils’ future.
David de Gea has showed character in his first two seasons at the theater of dreams, and is proving to be the real deal. He has won the premiership and is establishing himself as one of the league’s finest shot stoppers – all at the age of 22. He is a prime example of the rewards of patience, and if tied down, he should contribute to stability in the Man United defense for the next 15-odd years.