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How Manchester United Moulded David De Gea Into The Best Goalkeeper In The World

Damien McEvoy charts David de Gea’s rise to becoming one of the greatest goalkeepers on earth. 

Peter Schmeichel will be regarded by many as Manchester United’s greatest ever goalkeeper. A claim that can be backed up with the impossible job Sir Alex Ferguson faced in replacing the ‘Great Dane’ after he left Old Trafford following the club’s historic Champions League final win over Bayern Munich in 1999.  by his peers

United used no less than eleven goalkeepers following Schmeichel’s departure. Mark Bosnich, Fabien Barthez, Massimo Taibi, Roy Carroll and Tim Howard were just some of the men trusted between the posts following the Dane’s departure.

They ultimately failed despite some of them departing with medals in their pockets.

However, it wasn’t until 2005 that Sir Alex Ferguson finally solved his goalkeeping issues by signing Dutchman Edwin van der Sar. 

Ferguson learned from his previous mistakes and got it right at the first time of asking when he signed Atletico Madrid’s De Gea in 2011 as the long-term successor to Van der Sar, who retired that summer. 

If one man can challenge Schmeichel for the honour of Manchester United’s greatest goalkeeper then it is De Gea, although it didn’t always look that way.

When the skinny 20-year-old Spaniard arrived at the club in the summer of 2011 Manchester United fans could be forgiven for thinking another long episode of trying to replace their star goalkeeper had started once more.

However, his form had stood out while at Atletico and it was clear the youngster was destined for greater things after winning the Europa League in 2010 under Quique Sanchez Flores. He signed for Manchester United in June 2011 for a reported fee of £18.9m, over £18m more than Peter Schmeichel cost 20 years previously. 

On his debut in the Community Shield against rivals Manchester City De Gea was at fault for both City goals although his new side eventually won the game 3-2. With some doubts about his suitability for the role and if perhaps the move had come too soon for the youngster, the critics were already out and he was once again at fault for a Shane Long goal against West Brom on the opening day of the season.

Comparisons were starting to be drawn between the Atletico graduate and Massimo Taibi, with the Madrid native’s slight frame and boyish looks suggesting he was out of his depth.

The opposition soon saw the Spaniard as a weak link in the Manchester United lineup with long balls suddenly a tactic against De Gea with the player prone to dropping the ball under aerial challenges as big, robust centre-backs and forwards were more than happy to go up against the youngster.

In October of 2011 De Gea was part of a Manchester United side that lost 6-1 to rivals Manchester City, the first time the club had conceded six goals at home since 1930. 

Worse was to follow when his mistake saw Blackburn Rovers win 3-2 against United that followed with Ferguson deciding to drop his new goalkeeper in the next game, perhaps taking him out of the limelight and helping him in the long run as was the case.

An injury to Anders Lindegaard saw De Gea reinstalled to first team duty for a trip to Chelsea where again Manchester United drew 3-3 but a last-minute save after a free-kick by fellow Spaniard and future Manchester United teammate Juan Mata seemed to be a turning point for the goalkeeper who often talks of that save as the moment his Manchester United career took a positive turn where he has never looked back.

De Gea was starting to look more like a player befitting of a Manchester United jersey. He bulked up and his confidence grew. Consistency started to become part of his game. His teammates could now trust him as if it were Schmeichel or Van der Sar between the sticks.  The man that was once a liability was now a key figure in the starting eleven. Gone were the comparisons with Taibi.

The 2012/13 season saw De Gea voted into the PFA Team of the year by his peers and he was part of the last Manchester United side that won the Premier League in what would be Sir Alex Ferguson’s final campaign in charge of the Red Devils.

One particular game that season saw De Gea return to Madrid where a string of fine saves saw Manchester United earn a 1-1 draw with Real Madrid in the Champions League in a performance praised by his boss and regarded as a coming of age for the young goalkeeper.  

De Gea was one of the bright lights in a dark period for Manchester United following the departure of Sir Alex Ferguson. He was a crucial part of both David Moyes and Louis van Gaal’s reign at the club and he was voted winner of the Matt Busby Player of the Year award for three years running between 2013 and 2016, the first Manchester United player to win it three times consecutively. Supporters dare not think where Manchester United would have been in recent seasons without the Spain international.

On deadline day in the summer of 2015 an agreement in principle was agreed for the transfer of De Gea to the Bernabeu for £29m, including fellow keeper Keylor Navas. The transfer, however, failed to meet the deadline with the necessary paperwork not submitted on time meaning his dream was dashed not that anybody connected with Manchester United minded, they had held onto their star keeper for another year at least.

The true professionalism of De Gea was plain for all too see as his return to the team saw him deliver the same outstanding performances without any hint of sulking at his move home falling apart. But Manchester was also a home to him. He was seen as a firm fan favourite and he knew he had become the player he was with the help of Manchester United. 

Those supporters loved him in a way Real Madrid fans probably never would, after all they frequently boo and jeer one of the world’s best players, and former United man, Cristiano Ronaldo.

He also had fellow Spaniards Juan Mata and Ander Herrera with him in Manchester, with the three particularly close.

That September he penned a new Manchester United contract and was handed the captaincy for the first time in a League Cup clash with Ipswich Town. He would go on to collect the FA Cup for the first time as part of the side that defeated Alan Pardew’s Crystal Palace at Wembley the following May under Louis van Gaal.

He is also regarded as a key part of Jose Mourinho’s Manchester United side with the ex-Chelsea boss being the fourth United manager De Gea has worked under.

While the Premier League trophy has been out of reach for him and his teammates since the departure of Ferguson, the Spaniard added the League Cup and the Europa League for the second time to his list of honours, although Mourinho opted to select Sergio Romero for the showpiece event in Stockholm ahead of De Gea with the Argentinean the preferred choice for the majority of the competition.

This term Manchester United have the best defence in the Premier League and have only conceded one goal at home. They also remain unbeaten at home in 2017. Mourinho has made Old Trafford a fortress once more with De Gea a huge part of that.

While Bayern Munich’s Manuel Neuer and Juventus’ Gianluigi Buffon are up there with the best in their position, De Gea has proven himself worthy of the belief of many that he is now the best in the world with the great Italian ready to hang up his gloves this summer.

Manchester United will hope to hold onto their star man for as long as possible but with his performances continuing to impress that may prove tough. However, De Gea is right up there with both Schmeichel and Van der Sar in Manchester United’s greatest goalkeepers list. 

He has both time and the opportunity to surpass them both.

Damien McEvoy, Pundit Arena

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Author: The PA Team

This article was written by a member of The PA Team.