Having rejected Manchester United’s latest contract offer, David De Gea appears destined to either leave the club or see out the remainder of his contract before signing a pre-contract for another club in January. Approaching the ordinarily optimistic summer transfer window, this is a problem which threatens to undermine not only Manchester United’s window, but their entire season.
De Gea’s defection cuts through the heart of Manchester United supporters; the notion that one of their best players could be playing out his days before opting to sign for another, and potentially rival, club on bigger money. It could be seen as the latest crash of United’s once prominent star as De Gea sees brighter pastures elsewhere.
Since signing for Manchester United in 2011, David De Gea has been consistently one of their best players, despite an initially rocky introduction to the Premier League. He has developed and evolved, becoming the poster child for an era of ‘street goalkeepers,’ comfortable blocking with his feet as well as his hands.
In a time where United have lacked elite talent, David De Gea has been Manchester United’s unquestioned world class talent during the reigns of David Moyes, Louis Van Gaal, José Mourinho and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.
De Gea’s emergence as United’s best player in the post-Sir Alex Ferguson era not only reflected his genuine talent in those dark days, but was perhaps an indictment of the team, their regression and the feeling that a goalkeeper was now the standard bearer for a team gave the impression that United were doing more defending than attacking.
Now that De Gea seems likely to leave, we must ask if the Manchester United support and their dismay at the prospect of losing the spider-armed Spaniard is justified?
There is an argument that David De Gea is a brilliant shot stopper; an unbreachable warrior and a brilliant last line of defence, but such goalkeeping heroics might not be necessary were it not for deficiencies in the rest of his game.
In the era of ‘sweeper keepers’ such as Manuel Neuer, Allison and Ederson, De Gea is reticent to leave his six yard box. This encampment often means that his defence must player deeper, almost inviting the opposition onto United’s shaky backline.
By no means is this advocating a return to the Fabien Barthez era, but it is suggesting that were United to play with a goalkeeper positioned further up the field, it would enable the team to play push forward more readily.
A genuine problem with this however is that De Gea has often found his distribution being criticised. He doesn’t possess the throwing ability or passing precision of many of his contemporaries and is therefore unable to start attacks in the manner that Peter Schmeichel once did.
Possibly the most glaring problem with David De Gea at Manchester United has been his difficulties from the penalty spot. United fans had become used to Peter Schmeichel and Edwin Van Der Sar making important penalty saves to win crucial games (think Bergkamp at Villa Park in 1999 or Anelka in Moscow in 2008).
Since 2011, the awarding of a penalty against Manchester United has virtually guaranteed a goal. David De Gea has only saved 4 of the 34 penalties he has faced for Manchester United (with Steven Gerrard also hitting the post). This is an abysmal save-rate from one of the world’s best goalkeepers.
If reports are to be believed, David De Gea has turned down a contract offer which would have made him the world’s best paid goalkeeper. It is a sad indication of De Gea’s true feelings for the club; a club which stood by him through a rocky spell early in his career, a club which welcomed him back after a botched transfer in 2015 and a club whose fanbase staunchly supported him through a rough patch at the end of the 2019 season.
There are certain times when Manchester United, their board and management can be held accountable for personnel failings, but it seems like there is little that could be done to keep David De Gea at Old Trafford.
What Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and his team should now do is set about replacing De Gea, an excellent but by no means irreplaceable goalkeeper with a more modern goalkeeper, one who could be the springboard to more attacking football and reduce the need for constant goalkeeping heroics.