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David de Gea set for zero-sum game this summer

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In the early hours of a wet late spring morning in Moscow, May 22, 2008 to be precise, Nicolas Anelka made his way to the penalty spot to face Edwin van der Sar, knowing full well that he must score in order to keep alive Chelsea's dream of becoming European champions.

On the other side of the coin is the giant Dutch goalkeeper, knowing that anything other than a successful conversion by his French opponent will allow him to be permanently etched into Manchester United folklore.

The stage is set, if Anelka doesn't score, United are the Champions League winners for 2008, completing a memorable double and securing the coveted trophy with big ears in the year which marked the 50th anniversary of the Munich Air Disaster that cruelly ended the lives of several young men.

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This was classic 'game theory' in action. We all know the result, Van der Sar denied Anelka, and Manchester United became the kings of Europe once again.

Another example of 'game theory' in a shootout was in the 2006 World Cup quarter final. In this situation, for Anelka read Esteban Cambiasso, for Van der Sar read Jens Lehmann. This time, the German custodian pulls out a note from his sock, which surely gave Cambiasso the impression that his counterpart knew where the spot kick would go.

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Turns out that Lehmann did not have Cambiasso's name on the list, but that was irrelevant as the Argentinian's rather tame spot kick was saved by Lehmann, sending Germany through to the semi-finals.

Both of these scenarios were zero-sum games for the penalty takers, but in Van Der Sar's case, he perhaps had more to lose than Lehmann given that he had lost on penalties in his last appearance in a Champions League final 12 years prior to that.

A zero-sum game is defined as 'a mathematical representation of a situation in which each participant's gain (or loss) of utility is exactly balanced by the losses (or gains) of the utility of the other participant(s).'

And, while it often impacts penalty takers, it can also affect transfer decisions - and perhaps most notably this summer the one set to be made by David de Gea. The Manchester United 'keeper is wanted by Real Madrid, and there are a number of outcomes possible as he faces a zero-sum game...

The outcomes

1) He moves to Real Madrid, Iker Casillas leaves and goes into Euro 2016 as Spain's starting goalkeeper.

2) He stays at United, has an outstanding season and goes to represent his country as their undisputed number 1.

3) He moves to Real Madrid and Iker Casillas stays, but the younger custodian is still the first choice and has a barnstorming campaign.

So far so good for the former Atletico Madrid man, but let's consider the others:

4) He gets his move to Real, but has a few shaky performances which result in being whistled by the fans, with Iker Casillas waiting in the wings and his girlfriend being a leading Spanish journalist, a campaign to have 'San Iker' reinstated begins, with explicit references to De Gea's previous Rojablanco allegiance.

5) Casillas displaces him after a run of bad form, similar to the one he experienced during his first four months in England, resulting in him losing out on a place at Euro 2016.

6) He stays at United, but Louis van Gaal drops benches him to prove a point, Victor Valdes proves his quality and De Gea's chances of going to Euro 2016 vanish into thin air.

7) He stays at United, remains professional and has a fantastic campaign, at the end of which he is free to leave.

Okay, so there are slightly more negatives than positives. However, that is before considering:

8) Real Madrid sign Bernd Leno, who continues his highly upward trajectory, becomes Real Madrid's undisputed number one for La Liga matches. Casillas resumes duties as Cup keeper.

Leno earns himself a place in Joachim Low's Germany squad as back-up to Manuel Neuer. While this happens, De Gea is benched by Louis Van Gaal, meaning that his chance of heading into next summer as his country's first choice remains in the balance.

On the whole, it could go either way and the beauty of this game and life is that we make decisions that can lead to positive or negatives. However, it is rather interesting how game theory is used to make strategic decisions, and we shall see which way De Gea decides to go.

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Topics:
Football
Real Madrid
David de Gea
Manchester United
Victor Valdes
Iker Casillas

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