As much as it had made the rounds in the transfer rumor mill over the last few months, it was of surprise to no one when David de Gea officially signed on the dotted line last week to become Manchester United’s keeper of the present and future.
Replacing Edwin van der Sar.
With Edwin van der Sar hanging up his gloves, it was expected that United wouldn’t be shy about loosening the purse strings to land a top-class keeper, and that proved to be the case, as De Gea commanded a reported fee of more than £18m.
Of the three signings that we’ve made thus far this summer, this one is the most expensive (up front, at least), and unlike the moves for Phil Jones and Ashley Young, it fills a pressing immediate need. At the same time, it’s an investment made with both the short and long-term future in mind, as is also the case with the signings of Jones and Young.
Maturity & Experience.
At just 20, De Gea is half the age of his predecessor, who certainly aged quite well, at least from a standpoint of his performances on the pitch. Even with his current facial hair, De Gea looks even younger than his years, but he’ll have much more time to grow into his adult face than he will to grow into role as United’s new #1.
With his youth and relative inexperience in mind, others might have thought that the likes of Maarten Stekelenburg, Rene Adler, or one of the many other names linked with the post were better options, but you can flip those same points to show why this high-risk investment will be an extremely high-reward one.
De Gea has less than two full seasons of senior club appearances to his name, but there’s a lot to be said for that ‘limited’ experience. Not yet 19, he made his senior debut in September 2009 in a Champions League tie away to Porto, getting called into action as a first-half injury substitute. Talk about getting thrown straight into the fire.
He got his shot to be Atletico’s #1 keeper in January 2010, and it’s safe to say that he made the most of it, otherwise he wouldn’t be at United now, would he? In the last year-plus, he won the Europa League and Super Cup with Atletico, and he’s now readying himself for the start of his United career after doing his part to help Spain capture the U-21 Euro title just a few weeks ago. Not bad, not bad at all.
That continental and international experience is an asset, as he’ll be dealing with high-stakes matches early and often with United. And while La Liga might not have the same competitive depth from top to bottom as is the case in the Premier League, it does boast Barcelona (Europe’s current beast) and Real Madrid (Europe’s all-time beast), along with some quality second-tier sides in Valencia, Villarreal, and Sevilla. From where I’m standing, trips to the Camp Nou and the Bernabeu, and facing established, talented (and mostly young) forwards like Messi, Villa, Ibrahimovic, Ronaldo, Higuain, Benzema, Rossi, Fernando Llorente, Negredo, Luis Fabiano, and Roberto Soldado domestically over the last couple of seasons, not to mention facing shots from a couple of studs by the name of Forlan and Aguero in training, is pretty good practice for what he’ll be facing in England.
Why De Gea?
Okay, that’s all well and good, but does he have the goods to come good at United? Yes, yes, and yes. Physically, he might look like he could blow away if a huge gust of wind came along (and like he might still be a little young to watch R-rated movies unaccompanied by an adult), but he packs a lot of talent and potential in his slender frame. At 6’4” with long arms, he automatically takes up a lot of space as it is, but he’s both quick on his feet and with his reflexes, and flexibility and leaping ability are no concern with him. His slight frame might cause some worries about whether or not he’ll be able to hold his own when things get hairy in the box, but that’s nothing a month’s worth of proper English breakfasts and a little extra time on the weights, right?
It certainly doesn’t hurt De Gea’s cause that the pressure on him will be at least somewhat reduced by the presence of a vastly superior back line than the one that he had to deal with previously, which might mean a little less action for him but much more confidence in the men in front of him than he may have had before.
With as long as United have allegedly been interested in him, De Gea’s had more than enough time to decide whether or not he was truly ready to make the move. It’s no small step up to leave what you’ve known for so long for a new and completely different environment, it’s no small privilege to put on the Manchester United kit, and it’s no small duty to follow in the footsteps of a great in Edwin van der Sar. So for him to make this move at such a young age, with the full knowledge of the high pressure and expectations that he’ll face immediately, is a telling sign of his confidence in himself, and I fully expect that confidence to carry over to when it really matters.
With United in the hunt for multiple trophies, and with our Premier League campaign featuring as difficult an opening stretch as there’s been for some time, it won’t take long to see just what De Gea is made of. Yes, it is a real risk to turn over such a key position to a veritable youngster, but it won’t take long to show that he has what it takes to etch himself in our minds and hearts just like the man before him.