Manchester United goalkeeper David de Gea has been without question the club's most consistent performer over the last 18 months, maintaining a high standard of performance through managerial changes, defensive uncertainty and nothing short of a full-blown injury crisis at Old Trafford in recent times.
De Gea has bailed United out more times than Red Devils fans will care to remember in that time period, a feat he achieved again in last night's 2-1 victory over Stoke City. Quite worryingly though the Spanish stopper's long-term future remains undecided at this present moment, thanks to admiring glances from a Real Madrid side looking to replace Iker Casillas.
The 24-year-old's current deal, which expires at the end of 2016, only nets him a reported £75,000-a-week. When you consider the importance of United's number one to their Champions League aspirations he simply has to be awarded a bumper pay rise, particularly when you consider that Robin van Persie picks up a staggering £250,000-a-week to lead the line.
United's wage structure deserves scrutiny
Van Persie's astronomical pay packet is perhaps understandable given his importance to Sir Alex Ferguson's final Premier League winning team, scoring 26 goals to more than justify a controversial £24 million move from Arsenal in 2012.
United have created a worrying chasm between an elite trio of top earners and the rest of the squad by pandering to star power though. Van Persie, Wayne Rooney and summer loan signing Radamel Falcao all comfortably earn well over £200,000-a-week and have been placed in a pay bracket far in excess of their team-mates, which cannot be healthy in a squad undergoing constant changes under Van Gaal's stewardship.
Mediocre players handed big deals
Transfer chiefs at the Theatre of Dreams are also playing a dangerous game when it comes to putting players on six-figure deals who clearly don't deserve that sum, just look at the frustrating situation involving Nani.
The Portuguese international was little more than a peripheral figure at Old Trafford last season to put it mildly, but still got the luxury of a new five-year contract complete with £120,000-a-week wages barely a month into the new campaign.
United are now stuck with that salary until 2018 unless they can persuade Sporting Lisbon to buy the winger permanently, after enjoying a season-long loan deal that has the Red Devils picking up the tab for his earnings every single week.
De Gea deal has to be a priority
There's no question that United got that decision to reward Nani wrong, there has to be a clear change in the club's policy with regard to new contracts. Performances on the pitch need to be rewarded, not star power or how may shirts a top player can sell off it.
United will have three huge decisions to make when it comes to the make-up of their current squad at the end of the season. Sorting out De Gea's long-term future is clearly one, alongside gauging whether Falcao's done enough to earn a permanent transfer and if Van Persie should be sold or allowed to see out the length of his current terms.
Van Persie will be due a staggering £10 million loyalty bonus if he's still a Man United player in the summer of 2016, surely United need to bite the bullet and spend that same sum more wisely on a concerted effort to stop De Gea leaving for Madrid.
Van Gaal's side have the financial clout to put De Gea alongside Van Persie, or indeed surpass a Dutch star past the very peak of his powers with a 300% pay rise.
United need to make sorting De Gea's future out a priority and prove they aren't only interested in bringing big names to Old Trafford. Putting easily the club's most improved player on a big new deal would send out the right message that hard work and persistence will be rewarded under Van Gaal's reign, a move that's long overdue at the richest club in the world.
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