Former Manchester United goalkeeper Alex Stepney believes David de Gea has already demonstrated just why Sir Alex Ferguson decided to part ways with over £18 million for the young Spaniard.
De Gea endured a slow start to his career at Old Trafford after making the move from La Liga for around £18.9 million in the summer, and came in for increased criticism following a string of high-profile errors in goal.
However the former Atletico Madrid shot-stopper has come good in recent months to help United overhaul rivals Manchester City at the top of the Premier League table.
The 21-year-old garnered special praise for his performance against Norwich which, along with Ryan Giggs' late winner, helped United claim three points that could prove crucial in the title race.
De Gea believes that his fine save from Chelsea’s Juan Mata was the turning point of his Premier League career, however Stepney believes his transformation into the Red Devils No.1 came with the game against Norwich.
“I think he became a British goalkeeper in the game at Norwich,” Stepney told the Manchester Evening News.
“He came out and he started catching the ball. It gave the defence confidence in him. “It was always a question of how long it would take for him to settle.
"He is only a young lad and he had played his whole career in a different league – and there is no league like this. “He didn’t have the basics – things like taking crosses.
"There was never a problem with his distribution or organisation, but he had to learn very quickly the basics of being a goalkeeper. “They play the game differently in Spain.
"I was watching Real Madrid the other night and Iker Casillas was punching the ball when there was no-one around him. We are talking about one of the greatest goalkeepers of all time there. De Gea has learned how to play here.”
Stepney, a European Cup winner with United in 1968, believes that the slice of luck that helped De Gea regain the gloves from Anders Lindegaard having been dropped form the side at the turn of the year, was also vital in his transformation.
“Sometimes these things happen for a reason,” added Stepney. “Because it looked like Lindegaard was going to be number one. But he made some great saves against Chelsea. “I thought he had come in for some unfair criticism – but that was always on the cards given how long it took to replace Peter Schmeichel.
“Then we had Edwin van der Sar and it was always going to be difficult to replace him. But de Gea has got over it. “He’s got to carry on this form until the end of the season and if he is part of a championship-winning team then it is a good start for the future.”
However despite De Gea impressing this season he won’t have the stage all to himself in the crucial Manchester derby on Monday which should go some way in deciding this season’s title winners – Stepney believes City ‘keeper Joe Hart is the finest to have come from these shores in some time.
"He’s the best English goalkeeper by a mile,” he said. “I believe he should have played at the World Cup two years ago."
He added: “It’s hard to compare him with de Gea. They have a different temperament. Joe Hart is English – he’s been brought up in this environment, so he had a head start. But de Gea is catching up. He’ll be the full package.”
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