Igor Akinfeev of CSKA was briefly considered, following an impressive Euro ‘08 campaign and one strong game at Old Trafford, but he appears to have regressed; currently no big clubs are chasing his signature.
Fergie and his staff appear to have decided that De Gea is the pick of the lot. It has long been established that playing in goal for United is as much about temperament as ability. This young man combines the strategy of a poker.dk player with robust stamina and athleticism. The Spaniard turned 20 only earlier this season, but he plays with a presence that belies his youth. Built like a young Van der Sar, he has lightning-fast feet and elastic agility.
He’s more willing to come for a cross than Lloris, the element which seems to have ruled out a move for the French international, and is better with the ball at his feet than Neuer, who appears earmarked for Bayern in any case.
In his 50+ appearances for Atletico, De Gea has amply demonstrated both his talent and composure. He’s confident, communicates well with his back four, and commands his area as well as anyone does these days. But United fans need to be realistic: no matter who takes over in goal next season, there is, at least for a time, going to be a period of adjustment, if not an outright drop-off.
At 40, Van der Sar has enjoyed one of his strongest seasons in a United shirt. His saves in critical games have kept United well positioned for a 19th league title and a chance at a 4th European Cup. Less noticeable – until we don’t get to see it anymore – is how well he smothers low, skidding shots on greasy surfaces, how he handles back-passes to either foot, how he spreads calm through the entire team, from the seen-it-all Rio Ferdinand to the excitable Da Silva twins. It’s a tough ask to expect anyone to replace all that, especially a 20-year-old. De Gea is going to have rough moments and will need to be shown patience.
For all his ability, the young Spaniard can improve. United will put a little more muscle on his lanky frame, which will help him withstand the physical rigors and aerial assaults he’ll be exposed to. He’ll be encouraged to hold more crosses than he punches. Most importantly, of course, he’ll need to get used to playing at a club where every result matters. How he adapts to this is impossible to predict.
Few United fans will miss Tomasz Kuszczak. In truth, he wasn’t responsible for too many goals in his limited appearances, which is in contrast to Ben Foster. But he seemed to spread unease through the side whenever he played, not aided by his struggles to claim a cross or simply kick a moving football. Like Tim Howard, he’ll probably be a success elsewhere, with lesser pressure. Anders Lindegaard’s few appearances went well enough to suggest he can be a capable number two, but if the rumoured signing goes through, the burden of replacing Van der Sar will be squarely on De Gea’s slim shoulders. Fergie and his scouts have done their work; we can only wait to see the results.
Justin Bryant is the author of The Goalkeepers’ Union, an all-about-keepers blog. One of the ’100 Football Blogs to Follow in 2011′ by The Guardian, Justin is an acclaimed writer who has twice been nominated for the Pushcart Prize. Despite graduating from New York University with a Master’s Degree in Creative Writing in 2008, his first love was goalkeeping, which he still does for the Brooklyn Gunners of the Gotham Football League in New York City. Check out his blog and follow him on Twitter.