The Man Who Sir Alex Searched The Whole World For
Following a slightly hysterical baptism-by-tabloid, David de Gea has removed all doubt about his ability and potential. He is still only twenty, of course, and has lessons to learn, but after each performance, hacks like James Ducker of the Times and Patrick Barclay will increasingly wish they hadn’t gone for the easy joke at the young Spaniard’s expense.
Hyperbole aside, de Gea did make a few early errors, and it was reasonable for United fans to wonder if Sir Alex Ferguson, whose track record with goalkeepers has not always been above critique, had got it right. Manuel Neuer, favoured by many, has made a fantastic start to his Bayern career, but he was never a serious candidate for United, the player greatly preferring to stay in Germany. Hugo Lloris of Lyon saw his stock drop just a bit towards the end of last season, while Martin Stekelenburg apparently never truly played himself into serious contention.
Early season doubts about de Gea were only exacerbated by the surprisingly solid preseason displays turned in by Anders Lindegaard, followed by a storming performance in the Champions League away to Benfica. Not burdened by a lack of confidence, Lindegaard pronounced himself unwilling to be satisfied with life as a backup. Yet despite his solid performances, he remains very much United’s number two.
The tabloid press assigned an increasing lists of ‘tests’ for de Gea to pass – most notably away to Stoke and Liverpool, and home to Chelsea – and, to what can only be assumed to be the disappointment of the likes of Barclay et al, he passed them. Stoke was supposed to be the test, and while United left with ‘only’ one point, de Gea stood up to the aerial barrage well enough, while demonstrating his frankly astonishing agility and reflexes to help earn that point.
His save from Ramires at Old Trafford in the first half of the Chelsea game helped turned a somewhat ordinary team performance into a 3-0 halftime lead, but it was at Anfield last week where he will have finally silenced even his most biased critics. There aren’t many obvious similarities with Edwin Van der Sar, but a calm exterior is most certainly one. Unaffected by the braying crowd, he again showed exceptional agility in denying first Dirk Kuyt and then Jordan Henderson in the second half. Beyond the saves, his distribution continues to be a major advantage, as he is capable of both clearing danger and keeping possession with one swing of his boot.
Lindegaard will surely continue to get chances, even, occasionally, in the League, as he did at home to Norwich before the latest international break. Ben Amos will get a look or two as well, especially if Fergie suspects that Lindegaard really does have no plans to be a long-term number two.
Left out in the cold is Tomasz Kuszczak, still, surprisingly, a Manchester United player. Despite never making a string of the kind of errors which doomed Ben Foster’s Manchester United career, he likewise failed to inspire confidence with his appearances. Many expected him to go in the summer, and a January exit remains a strong possibility. One way or another, his United career appears to be finished.
An ever-changing back four, trips to unfamiliar stadiums, and a language still mostly unfamiliar are but a few of the challenges which remain ahead of de Gea. He has weathered the early storm, but there will be more bumps in his road – expecting anything else is unrealistic. But it already seems a long time since James Ducker dismissed him as looking like a kid who had won a competition to keep United’s goal. The truth is that Fergie and his team scoured the planet for the right man – and they found him.
Justin is a writer for Can They Score, who runs his own blog, The Keepers Union.