By DailyNewsUG Sports Correspondent
- Man United’s David de Gea has been hailed as the ‘Lionel Messi of goalkeeping’
- De Gea has been the one consistent since the departure of Sir Alex Ferguson
- He has been the Sir Matt Busby Player of the Year in four of the last five seasons
- De Gea’s reluctance to sign a new contract should alarm all those at Old Trafford
Forget any curious revisionism that seeks to play down the importance of David de Gea to Manchester United. The loss of a goalkeeper with a highlights reel so acrobatic it could land him a role with Cirque du Soleil would be seismic.
Put simply, De Gea is the world’s best in his position. ‘The Lionel Messi of goalkeeping,’ as Ben Foster colourfully described him following another match-winning display against Watford earlier this season.
But beyond that is his specific influence on United, a club that has lurched through various identity crises since Sir Alex Ferguson packed away his hairdryer in 2013.
De Gea has been the one consistent in the years since the departure of Sir Alex Ferguson
De Gea has been the one consistent, a shining beacon amid choppy waters. And one that has an extraordinary magnetism for the ball.
#DaveSaves is a bigger a trend than any hand configuration Dele Alli might conjure. As those in front of him have alternated and faltered, he has kept a steady, gloriously-high level.
De Gea has been the Sir Matt Busby Player of the Year in four of the last five seasons. He was the first goalkeeper to win the award and, since its conception in 1988, is the only player of any position to receive it on four occasions – one more than Cristiano Ronaldo.
So the ongoing news that De Gea is reluctant to sign a new United contract should deeply alarm all those with an affinity to Old Trafford. His current terms run out next summer and though the club would trigger a 12-month extension it would still leave a very realistic chance of a sale to avoid him leaving for nothing in 2020.
The Spaniard has been the Sir Matt Busby Player of the Year in four of the last five seasons
News that he is reluctant to sign a new United contract should alarm all those at Old Trafford
And who could blame him for contemplating a move to a club where he could enhance, rather than salvage? Lift the title, rather than edge into the top four?
De Gea is one of the few United players still at the club with a championship on his CV, but at 28 following seven years at United, he would have expected to add more than an FA Cup, a League Cup, and a Europa League by now.
To those who claim his powers are fading, and he could be replaced – by, say, Jordan Pickford – let’s look at his body of work as a whole and appreciate that while form can ebb (particularly when a goalkeeper behind a defence as chaotic as United’s) class is permanent.
The reason why De Gea is so celebrated is because the saves he makes are so exceptional. Replays on loop are usually the preserve of strikers who have scored brilliant goals, but they are required for his actions to fathom just how he has stopped the ball going in the back of the net.
Time and again slow-motion has revealed the stretch of a hand or boot that couldn’t be appreciated in full speed. With De Gea, there is beauty in that, as much as witnessing a ball being struck into the top corner.
Only on repeat viewings was the remarkable double save against Arsenal last season properly shown; the right hand down low to thwart Alexandre Lacazette followed by the right leg lifted up to deny Alexis Sanchez. Likewise the left boot levitating above the grass as he moved sideways to kick away Joel Matip’s seemingly certain goal at Anfield.
Against Juan Mata in 2011-12 and Bryan Oviedo in 2014-15, De Gea flew through the air and reached up his left arm to tip away ferocious hits that were arrowing in. He has every save in the repertoire, doing them more often and better than anyone else.
In the modern game, distribution is just as important. But accusing De Gea of failing in this aspect ignores the context. He has the passing range of Pickford or Ederson, it is just that Jose Mourinho doesn’t want him to use it.
He does not wish to play with fire by asking De Gea to play out from the back with defenders ill-equipped to do so. Rather United’s manager would prefer a kick long, and for the side to feed off second balls.
And as for throws, anybody with good recollection knows De Gea can overarm bowl with all the line and length of Glenn McGrath.
So before United fans begin to whisper that losing the Spaniard wouldn’t be such a major deal, that he is replaceable, stop and think: what might he be able to achieve with different players carrying a different ethos in front of him?