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David de Gea: Patience is the key
September 30th, 2009 was a great day for David de Gea. After learning that Atletico Madrid’s starting goalkeeper, Sergio Asenjo, was away on international duty with Argentina, the young Spanish keeper was called up as cover for backup Roberto. However, he had to come off injured after 27 minutes, meaning an 18-year-old de Gea had to fill in. Atletico would go on to lose 2-0, but thanks to the length of Roberto’s injury, de Gea got more minutes than he expected at the start of the season and eventually won the starter’s job. That year, he went on to win a Europa League title and a UEFA Super Cup in the summer.
After another stellar campaign with Atletico in 2010/2011, 20-year-old de Gea was at the centre of transfer speculation following Manchester United veteran Edwin van der Sar’s retirement from professional football. The Spaniard’s representatives rubbished the rumours, but eventually, the youngster signed for United on June 28th, 2011. £18 million was the price tag, and some questioned it considering his age, lack of English, and his unfamiliarity to England. Manager Sir Alex Ferguson was confident that de Gea would be one of the world’s best in a few years, having no worries with the fee. In his first competitive match for his new team, de Gea conceded two goals to Manchester City in the Community Shield. However, most of the potential stories on de Gea’s first game were erased because of United’s cliche comeback (they won 3-2 to claim the trophy). As the season continued, the criticism started coming thick and fast, some of it warranted, the rest harsh. That has carried into 2012/2013, and it’s gotten repetitive, old, and ridiculous.
Yes, David de Gea is poor on crosses, that’s a given considering his height (193cm or 6’4″) and weight (76kg or 167 pounds). He’s still 22 years old, he can fill out and get the strength required to fight off attackers who battle for the ball. Even after a season and a half, he’s gotten bigger than when he first arrived. Another negative in de Gea is his communication skills. When he first arrived to Manchester, he couldn’t speak English and was unsettled since he didn’t know the country in any way. It was even harder to overcome due to his age, a 20 year old that’s new to a nation and language, it was always going to be hard for him. He now has a basic understanding of English, he can speak enough to get by, but it may take him another couple of years for him to be fluent in every way. As for the size, that will develop over time as well, it’s not like bodies are unable to get bigger in muscle mass. Surely the United coaches are working tirelessly in this category, they invested too much into de Gea to not even bother. Once he gets stronger, he’ll have more confidence when receiving crosses.
Over the last 18 months or so, David de Gea has played 61 games for the Red Devils, conceding 73 goals. 1.2 allowed per game when goalkeeping for a club like Manchester United doesn’t look impressive, but they have had defensive issues all year. No keeper in the world would be able to stop every shot, especially when the United defence are like pylons at times. Despite that, de Gea still boasted the best saves-to-shots ratio in the Premier League last season, saving 78% of the attempts he faced. Given that he saw the most out of anyone in the league last year, that’s an impressive stat.
It shouldn’t come as a shock, though. One of the reasons de Gea was signed was because of his shot stopping ability and distribution. Having those reflexes and passing abilities at 22 means he has a bright future and has very little he needs to work on, which means he’ll be even better. Real Madrid’s Iker Casillas even said that he “feared for his starting role” in the Spanish national team because of de Gea’s early successes in his career. This is a World Cup and back-to-back European champion saying this. Peter Schmeichel, considered the best number one United ever had, also backed up the youngster following their 1-1 draw against Tottenham.
“It is very easy to blame de Gea,” said Schmeichel.
“I think if De Gea had not played the way he did we would have lost 4-1.
“We played in a way that required the goalkeeper to make saves. He did that. He did his job. Nobody is highlighting that.
“For the goal, David does all the right things. He got a fist to it under pressure but, unfortunately, the ball ends up with a Spurs player.”
Sir Alex Ferguson is a smart man, he wouldn’t make another transfer similar to that of Fabian Barthez, Ferguson learned his lesson. Give de Gea another two seasons. If he isn’t the goalkeeper United expected him to be, then he should be sold back to Spain where he might reach his full potential. Goalkeepers don’t generally peak until their early thirties anyways, so maybe de Gea will be one of those who achieves his best at that age. One thing’s certain for now, the critics of him are impatient, they must be more calm, and the bashing has become unwarranted.