February 12th 2012, during David De Gea’s first season at Manchester United, Daniel Dwamena wrote, ‘I myself don’t think he has been as bad as made out, the defenders need to take responsibility also. Without his saves in certain games they could be worse off.’
If we revisit ‘The Book of David, Chapter 1′, I displayed in the first piece on De Gea that United needed to improve defensively and he needed to be consistently picked and we would see him emerge into a great keeper. I also suggested that he needed more time to settle within a new country and required better protection from Manchester United’s defenders.
Well never has irony been portrayed more prominently; fast forward three years since that piece was written and we see a distinctively worse Manchester United defence, but a keeper who has blossomed tremendously regardless. So well in fact, his contribution game to game has become more pivotal than some of his teammates who play in outfield positions.
With United Manager Louis Van Gaal seemingly undecided whether to play four or three at the back, though we are in March, De Gea has been constantly exposed but has nearly every time rose to the challenge. 2-1 League wins away for United, at Arsenal in November and Southampton in December kept their unbeaten record going at the time when there was no right for the Red Devils to take 3 points in either game. United’s defending has at times been catastrophic, but the now Spanish International has been composed and assured when needed. Sunday’s 3-0 home win for United against Tottenham actually bought De Gea’s tenth Premier League clean sheet of the season in his 29th outing.
Such is De Gea’s remarkable development and belief in his own ability, we have come to the point where in defeat he still shines. Last Monday nights’ FA Cup Quarter Final home loss to rivals Arsenal, the United number one produced two breathtaking saves, to deny first Santi Cazorla, and then Alexis Sanchez. We saw him dive low to his left to keep out what looked certain goals that would have put the tie out of question. What made these saves even more impressive was that he was able to push the ball away at an angle, lowering the chance of a rebound falling to an opposing player. Some keepers can make similar stops, but they fail to push the ball away from goal.
The visits this season of the Premierships’ Merseyside clubs brought out De Gea’s best two performances of the 2014/15 season thus far. In October’s narrow 2-1 home win against Everton, De Gea produced a masterclass in the second half for United to gain victory. This was as well as becoming the first keeper to save a penalty from left back Leighton Baines in the Premier League. On his performance, United Boss Louis Van Gaal said, ‘David De Gea was fantastic today. When there are a lot of players in front of you your view is not so good as a goalkeeper. When the shot comes in from outside the box, it is always at the last moment that you see the ball, but his reflexes are very good. I have told the players, we are not playing well but we are fourth in the table. What is coming when we play well?’, (Source: premierleague.com). This of course indirectly sums up United’s season and De Gea’s individual campaign perfectly. To summarise United flattering to deceive but still picking up crucial points by virtue of their goalkeepers’ heroics.
Against Liverpool in December, United somehow won 3-0 in a game Liverpool largely dominated. The scoreline flattered United who were continually cut open by their fiercest rivals. De Gea scooped ‘Man Of The Match honours with a plethora of good saves to keep Liverpool at bay. Now you will be hard pushed to find many games, if any, where a team can win 3-0 and the winning teams’ keeper has been the best player on the pitch. The saves individually were not as good as the aforementioned Everton game or the Arsenal FA Cup match, but the amount of times he was called upon and coped, was most impressive. Raheem Sterling could have had 4 goals and substitute Mario Balotelli could have had a hat trick; the best save by De Gea coming from a Balotelli strike from point blank range which was tipped on to the bar.
So how exactly did De Gea start his ‘Road to Redemption’ and work on shoving critics’ opinions down their throats? Hard work and dedication, that’s how. If we go back to the nadir of his early United career, De Gea admitted he strongly considered a return to Spain. He commented, ‘sometimes (I thought about returning to Spain)’ along with, ‘it was difficult when you get a lot of criticism like I did, those early days when you play for a big club like Manchester United, it is normal when you don’t play well. But I kept strong and I always tried to remain positive’, (Source: Daily Telegraph).
De Gea spent hours on the training ground and worked on getting heavier physically as well as changing his diet. He responded to claims he was too lightweight for the Premiership in an interview with David Tanner in November 2013. He stated ‘I do a lot of work in the gym these days and I enjoy that. I have also changed the food I eat and that’s helped me put on muscle and bulk up’, (Source: Daily Express). De Gea had already started his ‘redemption’ by being voted into the PFA Team of the Season in 2012/13 campaign by his peers. This was an immediate turnaround that not many would have given much chance of happening at the start of his sophomore crusade.
De Gea was then named United’s Player of the Season, standing out in an extremely underwhelming 2013-14 campaign under the sacked David Moyes. Without his saves United could have come even lower than their capitulation from Champions in the 2012/13 season to the 7th place they occupied come seasons end.
When the legend that is Sir Alex Ferguson bought De Gea as a 20 year old, the idea was for him to be the number one keeper for 10-15 years. But the question we find ourselves asking is will De Gea be there next season, let alone in 10-15 years?
It has broken out De Gea’s girlfriend Edurne Garcia has expressed her discomfort at living in Manchester. If it was a new relationship it may be something not to take much notice of maybe, but the pair have been together for 5 years. On a Spanish television show she said of the city, when replying to the hosts’ claim that Manchester is uglier than the back of a fridge, ‘it’s not very nice, that’s for sure. You have to hunt out specific places, the nice places. But even then Spain is nicer’, (Source: Daily Mail).
De Gea’s contract runs out at the end of the 2015-16 season and with Real Madrid’s no.1 Iker Casillas not getting any younger and over the last couple of seasons not near the level of the keeper he once was, whether De Gea will be plying his trade in Manchester for years to come remains to be seen. A return to his place of birth could be too good to turn down if a serious offer comes to the fore. With no contract tied up yet, United may be forced to sell so he does not depart on a free transfer in the summer of 2016. With every growing day the chances of the third instalment of this series having De Gea in a United shirt becomes less likely unless a contract is signed.