De Gea Faces a Very United Problem
There is an old saying that great teams are built upon the foundations of a formidable goalkeeper. Can you imagine, for example, the Manchester United of old being as successful without the presence of Peter Schmeichel or more latterly, Edwin Van Der Sar?
Of course there is a problem with having giants of the club standing between the posts during trophy-laden eras. It creates pressure. It creates an assumption. It creates not only a yardstick but an expectation which young hopefuls will have to deal with when the likes of Van Der Sar step aside. There was a keeper at each end of the pitch during United’s game against West Brom that can attest to that.
It’s a very United problem (although not exclusively), and it’s one that has accounted for plenty of good keepers, and as the calls of “shoot” rang around the Hawthornes after David De Gea saw a Shane Long shot sneak under his torso, he would have been forgiven for wishing he was somewhere else.
It was a sorry sight to see. The shoulders slumped and the sunny yellow jersey that starkly contrasted De Gea’s darkening mood marking a third goalkeeping error in two games from the latest United keeper over the top into no man’s land.
It was a two pronged assault from West Brom, and assault is the right word. The long range shots that tested De Gea’s handling soon gave way to rough and ready charges on the Spaniard in the second half, a sort of welcome to the Premier League.
West Brom knew he could be vulnerable to long shots. Roy Hodgson is nothing if not wily and he would have known that De Gea may be fragile in certain departments, and went about exploiting any flaws in the United armoury that he could.
United went on to the claim the win to the relief of De Gea, but the fact that it was in spite of him rather than because of him will wear thin before long.
Make no mistake, David De Gea has no automatic right to join the exclusive club of keepers because he fits the mould. He may be young, expensive and talented (if the wave of plaudits sent his way from respected figures are anything to go by) but that doesn’t mean he is any more likely to succeed that the much maligned Massimo Taibi.
In this bright shiny new-look United team which carries a fair burden of expectation (in a recent preview, all eight of the Independent’s sports journalists picked United to win the Premier League, while it was a similar story with the Guardian and BBC Sport) there can be no weak links – and on the front line as De Gea is, he must show he is made of sterner stuff to be part of what could be something special.
Two games are not enough to judge the ability of a player. De Gea has shown glimpses of his shot-stopping ability so far that goes some way to explaining why Sir Alex Ferguson spent over £18 million on a man who only played one full season with Atletico Madrid – but he must show more.
Of course every mistake made by a keeper is magnified by the fact they are the last line of defence. Lapses in concentration, fault technique or even nerves are ruthlessly exposed as the ball rolls in to the net, while the attacking players know that a mistake from them means the ball rolls out for a throw in.
It is folly for De Gea to be written off already. A young keeper with plenty to learn, he has been thrown in at the deep end but he must show he can survive whilst in with the sharks.
Iker Cassillas’ assertion that he would be the man to “pension” off all Spanish goalkeepers still holds true; his raw attributes mixed with his temperament make for a lethal goalkeeping combo, it’s just now he is faced with the unique test that being a United goalkeeper provides.
He should not and will not be judged by his recent stumbles but by how he responds, how he shows that he is the man to step up to the plate – the fact that any debate is raging at all after two games is a nod to the fact that United goalkeepers are a separate entity to the rest of the league’s shot stoppers.
At a club like United, a player must be more than just that. He must perform with an on-looking crowd that not only seeks victory but expects it, and when less than that is delivered by the football betting favourites, he must accept the consequences.
United is the wrong club to be at if De Gea is unable to cope with pressure and expectation. He will be peppered with more long shots and roughed up over and over again, and unless he fights back then he may as well not bother unpacking his bags.
But if, as most in the know with De Gea suspect, he does show the mettle to demonstrate he can handle the test then he can do something special at the club with some special players in front of him. Only time will tell.
Written by Pete South