Manchester United goalkeeper David de Gea has come under renewed fire of late, and Sir Alex Ferguson faces a difficult decision as to whether he should replace a player he signed for £17m just over 18 months ago.
The United manager smashed the British transfer record for a goalkeeper in signing de Gea, but is now being linked with a £15m move for Stoke City’s Asmir Begovic, who has impressed for Tony Pulis’ side.
De Gea was criticised for his part in United succumbing to Tottenham’s pressure in their recent game at White Hart Lane, with the young Spaniard failing to get much purchase on an attempted punched clearance that directly led to a late equaliser for the home side. Gary Neville was particularly scathing in his analysis, with his former boss responding dismissively to the denunciation.
However the poor punch against Spurs was not an isolated incident for de Gea. He struggles to command his penalty area, and was dropped early in the last campaign after an error against Fulham. That mistake did not cost United points, unlike in last season’s home defeat against Blackburn on New Year’s Eve. With the title lost on goal difference to Manchester City, any dropped points were decisive.
It is impossible and pointless to speculate, but should United have still had a confident Edwin van der Sar keeping goal last season, it is conceivable that they would have stood a stronger chance of retaining their Premier League title. Van der Sar was consistently present, whereas de Gea has been absent for 17 of the 61 Premier League games that he has been at the club for, and this figure would have been higher had Anders Lindegaard not suffered an ankle ligament injury last season.
Nonetheless, there can be little debate about some of the outstanding qualities that de Gea possesses. His shot-stopping is world class, and although sometimes unorthodox, his reflexes and natural ability to keep the ball out is not under question. He also has good concentration in pulling out impressive saves after long periods of inaction, and aged just 22, he could have some 15 years at the top of his game. This is more than enough time to add experience and judgement to his merits.
The problem for Ferguson appears to be twofold. Firstly, he must judge whether the errors that permeate de Gea’s game are examples of a young goalkeeper learning his trade. If they are, and can be ironed out through training and experience, the Spaniard will become an incredible player, possessing qualities that are instinctive and cannot be coached.
Herein lies the second problem for the United manager. For if de Gea is afforded the time and patience to develop his craft at Old Trafford and become a genuine world class goalkeeper, it would become increasingly likely that one of Spain’s big clubs would attempt to lure the Madrid-born man back to his homeland. United would bear the brunt of his teething problems then lose him in his prime. Indeed, Real Madrid’s current custodian Iker Casillas turns 32 before the end of this season, while rumours abound that de Gea is homesick in Manchester.
It is a difficult conundrum for Ferguson, who has already seen Real take from him one of the world’s best in Cristiano Ronaldo, who the Scot nurtured from a raw talent into a FIFA World Player of the Year. Developing de Gea into one of the finest ‘keepers around only for him to swap Manchester for Madrid would be a bitter pill for the United boss to swallow.
It seems like the manager will persevere with him for the time being, but if de Gea continues to make mistakes and cost his team points, Ferguson’s hand may be forced into replacing the world’s second most expensive goalkeeper sooner rather than later.
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