David de Gea has come in for a lot of undeserved criticism since joining Manchester United in 2011.
It’s no secret that the Premier League is arguably one of, if not the most physically demanding leagues in the world - with relentless attacks from teams launching high balls deep into the area, long throws, fast counter attacks and crunching tackles.
It’s certainly no place for the faint hearted. Compare it to the flair and skill of the Spanish league where teams are passed off the field, cut open by low crosses and killer passes into the box and face the threat of Messi dribbling the ball into the net.
Based on the difference in style alone it was going to be a tough task for a new goalkeeper joining the league from Spain. Add to that the pressure of being rated as one of the world’s best prospects, and having to fill the gloves of a team who are looking to replace the best keeper of the last 10 years, of whom himself had to fill the void left by the best keeper or all time.
That was the task of David de Gea. The young Spaniard arrived in Manchester full of promise after a fantastic spell with Atletico Madrid and the Spanish U21 team. This praise was well deserved but all past accomplishments count for very little of the hallowed turf of Old Trafford, where the team, fans and all those connected expect the very best.
It was not long before questions we being asked about the £18.9 million man. Would he live up to his price tag? Could he be the man to replace Edwin van der Saar and become the next top keeper for the club?
Upon arrival De Gea had praise and belief from the manager, but the fans were not totally sold, worried about his age, build and lack of a commanding presence at the back.
There was no denying his ability to stop shots and how important he was back at Madrid. However in the Premier League you need more than great distribution, high flying saves and hype. You need to own the 18 yard box, command the players in front of you and lead from the back. At a team like United you need to be ready to stand and watch for 80 minutes and then make the save of your career to ensure the points.
After a preseason campaign that was on the whole successful the season began. United, the champions needing to keep the noisy neighbours at bay, and fans around the world got a glimpse at the new Number one in the Community Shield.
Although the match was won by United the early concerns began to emerge. A long range shot from Edin Dzeko should have been saved but managed to beat the Spaniard. Follow that with a couple of other weak efforts beating the young lad in the 1st few games including Shane Long’s effort and the questions were mounting, along with the pressure.
There was no doubt that De Gea was excellent at distribution and had made some stunning reflex saves. However for all his hard work, he seemed to struggle to command his area and collect the so called bread and butter balls into the box.
Regardless of a shaky start, De Gea soon began to settle. A clean sheet against Spurs and good saves, including a penalty, in the 8-2 humbling of Arsenal all helped. Even the 6-1 home defeat to City had few fingers pointing at De Gea who was left exposed in the closing minutes.
Despite some good displays it was still evident the young player was not commanding his box in the same nature of past Old Trafford Greats and concerns over his build kept growing.
Fast forward to New Year’s Eve and United faced bottom of the league Blackburn at Old Trafford. Two high profile errors cost United the points and De Gea was dropped.
Many goalkeepers would have struggled to bounce back from this and many supporters were labelling the transfer another goalkeeping mistake likening him to Fabien Barthez and Massimo Taibi.
As a goalkeeper myself, and one who is not your typical giant between the sticks (I am 5’8”) I could sympathise with De Gea and his battle to get to grips of the physical challenge. I also knew that in times such as this the last thing he would have wanted was to be dropped and pulled from the firing line. Luckily this was avoided thanks to an injury to the seemingly more assured Anders Lindegaard.
Another tough game and disappointing performance at Liverpool in the cup left fans worried the league was going to City and United would be forced to buy another keeper. Many fans were forgiven for assuming he had played his last game of the season and maybe even in a United shirt.
Even with the worry in the stands two people maintained he was the answer to the goalkeeping problem, De Gea himself and importantly the Manager – Sir Alex Ferguson. As a player maintaining his confidence and belief in his ability, it is fair to say any dents he received, by the views of the fans and his poor performances, were surely being removed by the vote of confidence from footballs best brain and results generator.
The statements from Sir Alex must have paid off as De Gea began to shine and United fans began to see the reasons why United paid so much to secure his services.
David produced some fine displays showing composure, confidence and ability. Crosses seemed to be bread and butter and De Gea began to command the area, collect crosses and clear his lines like he’d been playing in the country at this level for decades.
Confidence is a real hard beast to tame, if you don’t have it you can feel like you never will, yet even those who are overloaded with it can lose it all in a heartbeat. Much like all golfers will admit, even during your worst round, and De Gea was definitely experiencing his toughest ‘round’, it only takes one good shot to turn it all around.
That one good shot, or in this case save, came at Stamford Bridge. United knew that a run of tough games would make or break a season and with a keeper struggling for form it could make or break his career at the club.
After a tough game where the Reds dominated but found themselves 3-0 down, at no fault of the keeper, it took a monumental team effort to get back to 3-3. With a point all but salvaged De Gea had one task with time almost up - stop Juan Mata from scoring a free kick that would seal all three points for Chelsea. Up stepped Mata and hit a perfect free kick over the wall towards the top corner.
At this moment De Gea laid the foundations for cementing his status as the new United Number 1 by producing an unbelievable full stretch save to his top left corner. This save earning a point for his team, and more importantly earning the respect he deserved.
What followed after this defining moment was a string of world class performances. Despite being under immense pressure to perform, De Gea showed his worth with standout performances away at Norwich. These performances showing he had not papered over his cracks but he had completely rebuilt himself to improve on his weaknesses.
High profile performances in tough games like the Norwich encounter just helped build the reputation and belief in De Gea. The performances were also followed up with him being voted player of the month on more than one occasion, something only Wayne Rooney can equal this term.
I’m sure that there are moments that De Gea would have rather not had to endure during his 1st season in Manchester. It is clear for all to see that those moments, where even the most loyal United fan would have been asking for him to be dropped, helped strengthen and define him as a true Number one and one of the first names on the team sheet each week.
If you look at the season on the whole it is fair to say that the signing of De Gea was a success and a decision that United will benefit from for many years to come.
Moving into his second season De Gea had to endure an early battle for the number one spot with Anders Lindergaard but, much like the season before, Alex Ferguson eventually settled on De Gea for the spot. This has grown to be one of the best decisions and has almost certainly contributed massively towards United being 15 points clear heading into the Manchester derby.
The young Spaniard has shown in many games that he can command his area, collect crosses, clear his lines and most of all make some sensational saves when he is called upon. This was exhibited with a string of stunning displays away at Real Madrid and in the FA Cup against Chelsea, where his incredible save from Juan Mata kept United in the competition.
De Gea has undoubtedly got the backing of his manager and team mates and there are certainly no concerns over his ability having significantly improved on some of his weaknesses. This leaves him is a fantastic position as he is still very young but already one of the top goalkeepers in the league and he can only get better.
Taking this into account and looking at the situation objectively I feel that the football fans and media owe an apology to the young Spaniard for writing him off too soon. It was fair to assume that a young player changing leagues, joining the reigning champions in the place of a club legend would take time to adjust. Factor in his language barrier to begin with and the difference in style showcased in the Premier League and it was inevitable that mistakes would have been made early on.
I feel that this should have been in the forefront of people’s minds and that fans and the media should have got behind De Gea rather than condemning him. Nevertheless even though this was not the case it must be said that De Gea has proven his worth and earned his place, which justifies his quality and price tag more so than if he had have endured an error free season.
As a Goalkeeper and United fan I wanted De Gea to be a success and would like to congratulate him on a fine first season and a truly excellent second season and personally say well done for overcoming his challenges and proving his doubters wrong when it counted.
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