It might be the biggest ‘will-he won’t-he’ of the summer transfer window, but if David de Gea decides to leave Manchester United, one thing is certain: Jose Mourinho’s side will be losing a fabulous goalkeeper.
What that means in practice, though, is that United need to be planning already for life without him. They need a replacement lined-up before they even know if he’s going.
Inevitably, the biggest names in the world would be linked with the club if the possibility of De Gea leaving gathered speed, but that might not be the route United should take.
For one thing, the biggest names in the world won’t join Manchester United. They’re too busy playing for clubs they’ll likely never leave: Gianluigi Buffon and Manuel Neuer are both showing that the biggest thing a goalkeeper can wish for is stability. Even when Victor Valdes left Barcelona for Manchester United, that pretty much spelled the end of his days at the top.
It doesn’t always work out that way. United signed Edwin van der Sar, which turned out to be a fabulous signing, but despite that, Mourinho should think about someone a bit younger who will have time to establish himself as the number one at Old Trafford the coming years.
Names like Hugo Lloris and Jan Oblak will be linked with United, but the answer might be much closer to home.
Since his move from Birmingham to Stoke City, Jack Butland – rated at £7.65m by Transfermarkt.co.uk – has seen his star rise, even if this season has been something of a write-off for the England international. It was a costly injury sustained at the end of the last campaign which not only ruled him out of the European Championships in France last summer, but also meant Butland missed almost the entirety of this season.
His comeback came at a time when football was no longer on the minds of his team.
Returning in late April, Butland has made only four appearances this season, conceding an average of two goals per game – a pretty hefty chunk of goals to let in for a keeper who would like to challenge Joe Hart for England’s number one jersey sooner rather than later. And yet, this is the sort of record which Stoke might well benefit from in the near-future.
If bigger clubs search for a goalkeeper this summer, they’ll see Butland as a player who has just come back from an injury with a bad record. But that only tells half the story. Stoke’s players have been dreaming of deck chairs on the beach since January, really, and six of the eight goals Butland has conceded have come against Swansea and Arsenal, two teams who still had something left to play for.
What people forget is that before his injury, Butland was in sensational form in his breakthrough Premier League season. Since Joining Stoke, he’s been loaned out to four different clubs before finally cementing his place in the side after the sale of Asmir Begovic to Chelsea at the start of last season.
At 24, Butland is at the prime age for United this summer. Any bigger club looking at him would have wanted to see two full seasons in the Premier League, just to be sure. That probably plays into the hands of Stoke, who may keep him for another year because of the injury.
And yet, if De Gea does leave United this summer, Mourinho should take the gamble. If he doesn’t, it means he’ll have to replace the Spaniard with another player, and that means losing out on Butland.
And if he does take the gamble, he could sign Manchester United’s number one for the next decade. It could be well worth the risk.