David de Gea has had plenty of time to get used to the mantle of ‘the new Edwin van der Sar’. It was first aired back in 2007, during the Spanish national side’s Under-17 European Championship campaign. It was an association made due to a comparable body type and by signing on to replace him in the summer at Manchester United, he appeared to be fulfilling his destiny. If the gravity of the situation did not occur to de Gea in advance, the ensuing baptism of fire very quickly outlined the scale of the challenge waiting.
During this period, Sir Alex Ferguson began to rotate a bewildered de Gea with Anders Lindegaard, who responded with a string of impressive performances. There was very little to choose between the pair before the Dane sustained damaged ankle ligaments, which resulted in an enforced run in the side for de Gea in recent weeks. A series of significantly improved displays have reassured concerned fans and silenced critics, as United reacquaint themselves with squeaky bum time.
His performance in the 3-2 defeat against Athletic Bilbao was his most accomplished display to date, producing a series of impressive saves to keep United in the tie. Ahead of the game, de Gea revealed a grounded personality, aware of but unaffected by external influence, a trait that will serve him well in his quest to emulate the likes of van der Sar and Peter Schmeichel.
De Gea told the Manchester Evening News: “I did receive one or two bits of criticism at the start of the season. But it only served to make me a stronger person. It encouraged me to keep fighting and keep working hard. The important thing is not to let yourself get down because you can turn it around. I have waited for my chance and grabbed it. The time I spent on the bench helped me to reflect and think hard. It allowed me to regroup and made me more determined to succeed.”
The 21-year-old has exhibited good positioning, excellent distribution and the ability to make eye-catching reflex saves. His struggles relate to a lack of physical presence and a weakness in handling crosses. Lindegaard, seven years his senior and more imposing, offers more experience and greater consistency, but de Gea has the greater potential and Ferguson is keen to improve his physique, aiming to add a stone to his slight frame in the gym.
A victim of circumstance, de Gea has rarely appeared behind the same back four in two consecutive games. He has also had to contend with a new language, a new culture, buying a new house and learning to drive, while maintaining a relationship with a Spanish pop star. Like Wojciech Szczesny before him, he has emerged, suffered and endured and now looks set to justify the hype, against all odds.
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