The goalkeeper’s position have been one of the biggest concerns for the Red Devils in the 2019-20 season.
It was merely two years ago, that Manchester United’s erstwhile talisman, David De Gea, was being spoken about in the same breath as Cristiano Ronaldo as a possible game changer as Portugal lined up against Spain in the group stages of the FIFA World Cup 2018. The Spanish shot stopper was widely touted as the best goalkeeper in the world, winning his club’s Player of the Year award four times in the last five seasons.
However, little did we know that we would witness a performance from David de Gea that would dent his confidence to an extent that his spot at United, which he had held almost unchallenged for nine seasons, would come into question two years down the line.
Cristiano Ronaldo’s hattrick started a downward trend for the Spaniard who has seemed a shadow of his former self in a United team that has seemingly improved in every area of the pitch since Ole Gunnar Solskjaer took charge of the club. It was only a matter of time till the spot of David de Gea in the side was questioned.
The 29-year-old was not helped by the fact that the club have gone through goalkeeping coaches at the rate of knots. Eric Steele who coached David de Gea when he first joined the club, helped iron out the flaws in his game, slowly developing him into the keeper that he was at the peak of his powers. Steele was replaced by Emiliano Alverez, who was brought in from Atletico Madrid to personally work with the shot stopper.
This too proved to work a treat until Alverez fell out with David de Gea over the Spaniard’s new contract at Manchester United. It is often easy to forget that much like outfield players, a goalkeeper’s game is also highly influenced by the people behind the scenes.
The real David de Gea has stood up from time to time over the last couple of seasons, particularly in the bigger games, but the drop off has been undeniable. For Manchester United fans, there was a time when the Red Devils’ faithful had no fear of a striker coming close to the bars. An outstretched palm or an agile foot from the Spaniard seemed almost inevitable.
That has hardly been the case of late, with David de Gea making more errors directly leading to goals than any other player in the Premier League. However, it is not all doom and gloom from Manchester United’s perspective. While their number one is struggling between the sticks, the Premier League has witnessed the rise of Dean Henderson over the course of the last 18 months.
The United loanee has been outstanding for Sheffield United as they gained promotion to and also impressed in the Premier League, currently vying for the Golden Boot in his first top flight campaign. For the very first time in his career, David de Gea has some competition.
Henderson has been extremely vocal in his desire to take the number one spot at United, with reports claiming that in his mind, he is better than the Spaniard. However, the young goalkeeper may not be quite sure of what he is getting himself into.
Over the course of the last campaign, while Henderson has been exceptional, he has also shown a tendency to slip up in front of goal from time to time, with mistakes against Liverpool and Chelsea coming to mind. Despite his evident self-belief, the fact remains that the Englishman has yet to test himself where the lights shine the brightest.
With no disrespect to Sheffield United, there is a far greater margin for error at a side that has just been promoted to the Premier League. As de Gea will know all too well, there is nowhere to hide as a Manchester United keeper.
Finally, there is the little matter of David de Gea’s contract at Manchester United. Until quite recently, the financial structure at Manchester United was at shambles, with the club paying well above the odds for players like Alexis Sanchez.
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Of late, the club seems to be reigning in its wage bill, offloading the likes of Ashley Young and bringing in Bruno Fernandes for a lower wage. However, David de Gea is one of the survivors of the era of massive contracts at the club, pulling in well over £350,000 a week. As United have seen in the past, getting him off the wage bill will be no easy task.
However one looks at it, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has a monumental decision on his hands going into what could be a defining 2021/22 campaign, both for his career and for the club as a whole. It has got to be worth noting that the Spanish goalkeeper has given a lot to Manchester United and to the fanbase over the years.
It could so easily have been the case that he threw his toys out and refused to put his best foot forward following the broken fax machine that blocked his transfer to Real Madrid at the last minute. If it were not for his heroics, Manchester United would not have been in the position that they are in today.
It remains to be seen what the future between the sticks at Old Trafford will be. One can only hope that the de Gea that we all know returns one day, either in Manchester or elsewhere.