Being a 22-year-old footballer at one of the world’s most famous, prestigious and highly-scrutinised clubs will never be the easiest part of a young players career.
For David De Gea, one would not have been surprised had he begun to become disillusioned with life in England.
He arrived in England as the world’s second most expensive goalkeeper - £18m, after Gianluigi Buffon - with the weight of expectation of succeeding his predecessor, the Netherlands and Manchester United legend Edwin van der Sar.
Immediately after signing, the English press wondered whether or not this expensive, young, inexperienced and stick-thin Spanish goalkeeper would make the grade. At 21 years old, Van der Sar was not even a starter for Ajax, whereas Peter Schmeichel was the goalkeeper for Danish second division side Hvidovre.
With the amount of expectation put on a player who was just starting his career, it would have seemed he would be doomed to fail.
The physical and aerial aspect of English game has been well-documented and this was the part of his game that De Gea would have to work on the most.
His first competitive start was against city rivals, Manchester City in the Community Shield. Although United won 3-2, the emphasis wasn’t on the result, but on the new goalkeeper, who had failed to command his area for the first goal and let a 30-yard strike go under his body for the second.
From this moment, the emphasis has never shifted from him. The first of two defining moments in De Gea’s campaign last season came in the New Years Eve Premier League clash against Blackburn Rovers, where United lost 3-2 at home, with De Gea at fault, rightly, for letting Grant Hanley outmuscle him for the ball from a corner which meant a third and winning goal for Blackburn, allowing them to leave the home of the Champions with three goals as well as the more important three points.
De Gea was subsequently dropped for the foreseeable future after his error and was replaced with Anders Lindegaard. However, with Lindegaard injuring his ankle in January, Sir Alex Ferguson was reluctantly forced to field De Gea in goal for the remainder of the season.
With every performance that De Gea took part in, the more his confidence grew. It all of his current form and confidence culminated in a must win game versus Blackburn, last April. United dominated from start to finish, yet were susceptible to the counter-attack. As was the case, Blackburn threatened little with the ball but created numerous chances on the break, with Junior Holliet testing De Gea from range, only to be foiled.
Some would say that this was De Gea’s best game in a United kit, and rightly so as he had kept them in the game with some fine stops, which set the tone for his future.
As the 2012/13 season came to an opening, speculation was rife whether or not Sir Alex would replace his "vulnerable" goalkeeper. The rumours throughout proved fruitless and United kicked off the season against Everton, and were it not for De Gea, United would have lost by more than just the 1-0 score line as he saved from Marouane Fellaini, Leon Osman and Steven Pienaar throughout.
As the season progressed, De Gea and Lindegaard rotated the role of the number one jersey until the time came for the first Manchester derby of the season at the Etihad Stadium, and with Lindegaard’s wife going into labour, De Gea was trusted with being United’s first choice goalkeeper, and he hasn’t looked backed since that day.
However, the first of a wave of talking point against De Gea came in United’s 2-1 victory over Liverpool at Old Trafford where De Gea seemed to parry the ball straight into the path of Daniel Sturridge who subsequently scored.
Following the game, De Gea was criticised for parrying the ball to Sturridge, when the majority of keepers would not have saved the original shot from Steven Gerrard. However, this was just the start of a torrent of over exaggerated analysis on De Gea’s ‘failures’ that would find its way towards him.
In the league game against Tottenham, De Gea was seen to have made a monumental error in punching the ball right into the path of a waiting Aaron Lennon to square it to Clint Dempsey to snatch a late and dramatic equaliser.
In the post-match press coverage, papers, websites and pundits alike were all critical of De Gea for not getting more onto the punch, but there was no mention of him being sandwiched in between Nemanja Vidic and Steven Caulker. There was no mention of Patrice Evra, just standing, ball watching as De Gea’s punch dropped down to Lennon. And there was no mention of Michael Carrick letting Clint Dempsey having an open shot at goal. The whole of the media were on De Gea’s back, even though he had kept United in the game with some incredible saves, none more so than against Dempsey himself.
One could argue that the scapegoat tag De Gea has earned from the media is that his rivals at other top clubs have gotten away with murder compared to him; including England number one, Joe Hart.
Earlier on in the season, when United had beaten Chelsea, Juan Mata had scored a great free-kick, but it was overshadowed in analysis that De Gea had taken a step in the opposite direction of where the ball would end up. Yet in the Manchester derby, as Van Persie scored a last-minute winner, Hart too took a step in the wrong direction, yet there wasn’t even a grain of criticism towards him, why?
Although there had been a deflection that had diverted the ball a small amount from its original target, one must ask why Hart was no subject to any criticism. Unlike Hart, De Gea has gained United more points than lost. Especially for Hart, in the game against Sunderland where he was beaten by the cross-cum-shot by former teammate Adam Johnson, that he allowed to roll under his body onto the post and in, which meant Sunderland took all three points, yet Johnson was praised for his instinctive shot at goal, with Hart not at any fault as he was just caught out with a ‘moment of magic’.
Again, another instance with Chelsea goalkeeping veteran Petr Cech, who parried a Yoann Gouffran shot straight into the path of an oncoming Moussa Sissoko to score an equaliser, yet he did not get criticised. Instead, Sissoko gained all the accolades for keeping up with his compatriot and tucking the rebound in.
Furthermore, in United’s game against Fulham, De Gea made an excellent save from Bryan Ruiz at 0-0, getting a small finger on his shot that deflected it against the post, yet pundits and writers did not acknowledge it, with one writing that De Gea got “nowhere near” the shot.
New statistics emerged from a study that since the star of the 2011/12 season, De Gea has had a better shots-to-saves ratio than Hart, with the City 'keeper also culpable of two more errors than De Gea that lead directly to goals. Yet who has been blamed more?
With the amount of favouritism in the media towards other goalkeepers other than De Gea, he has been made to be a scapegoat whenever a result goes against United, no matter how good the other team was, or how bad the individual errors were that lead up to him conceding the goal.
The choices of the press to write about the individual genius of the opposition against rival goalkeepers rather than choosing to write about faltering performances of De Gea emphasises the Spaniard's identity as a scapegoat.
In contrast to what has been written about him, the United goalkeeper has been immense this season and has been a shadow of the shy, skinny and weak Spaniard that came to England in the summer of 2012.
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