David is Gea: Why United’s shot stopper is finally scaling heights

Three years is a long time in modern day football.

It was just three years ago when Robin Van Persie was still captain of Arsenal, and did not have to endure being called colloquial synonyms for female genitalia by the Emirates faithful. Just three years ago, Steve Kean – manager of Blackburn Rovers at the time – had perhaps not even considered that he would soon end up living and coaching in the small Islamic state of Brunei in South East Asia. And it was three years ago, when relatively unknown yet exciting young prospect David De Gea had rather quietly been acquired by Manchester United to replace the iconic Edwin Van Der Sar.

“David de who?” I remember my rotund friend so vividly asking when we were having lunch, shifting his concern to the fact that an unknown was now responsible for the job between the posts momentarily, before resuming to worry about where his order was.

The fact that the U21 Spanish star had arrived for a British record fee for a goalkeeper of around £17.8 million was one that simply didn’t do anything to overwhelm. With the likes of Van Der Sar, Paul Scholes, Owen Hargreaves, Wes Brown and John O’Shea all departing the club that year, the worries of many a Manchester United fan regarding long term replacements were split to encompass the entirety of the team, not just one particular position. This in turn prevented most of the fans’ attention from falling solely on De Gea’s shoulders, though as the season progressed, the rather patchy nature of the new keeper’s performances to ensure defensive prowess at United walked closer to the centre of the stage, especially when contrasted with the juggernaut like progress the club was making offensively.

Whereas the new keeper leaked goals against opponents of all sizes both domestically and in the UEFA Champions League, shots were ending up in the back of the net in bags and bags on the other end. At the end of the season, I asked the same friend to tell me about the three league matches he found most exciting, to which he responded “United 8 – 2 Arsenal at Old Trafford, United 3 – 1 Chelsea at Old Trafford, and United 4 – 4 Everton at Goodison Park”.

David De Gea has been in inspiring form of late
David De Gea has been in inspiring form of late

To him, and perhaps most United supporters, what glimmered was 7 points from 9 and a +8 goal difference. The job by United as a whole on paper was done in these three matches more than admirably, but this only served to drape a veil over the effort De Gea was putting in to acclimatise himself with life in the Premier League. To Young David, it was not the glamour of wins and points that would come to mind, but simply his failure to prevent 7 goals from going in, and the work that needed to be done to overturn such a defensive record. Had 7 of those goals been 6, had United pipped Everton in that win, they would be champions at the end of the season. This is all De Gea in all likelihood saw, to which he responded in emphatic fashion in his next year.

Back to back saves against Carlos Tevez and David Silva in United’s win against City away from home in the next season in December were followed by back to back saves against Craig Gardner and Stephane Sessegnon against Sunderland at Old Trafford in the same month. By February, De Gea kept back to back clean sheets against QPR and Norwich City. My lunch affecianado of a United fan friend was positively jovial to say the least, as De Gea’s name was announced in the PFA Team of the Season, and United lifted the trophy once again by the season’s end.

Today, open most social networks and sports media outlets and you will find calls of resolution to axe Spain’s very own Iker ‘The Saint’ Casillas in favour of De Gea, to replace a man who has for a serious amount of time both played for and captained the most accomplished European club in the world in Real Madrid, and until recently, the most accomplished footballing nation worldwide as well. Although I am not a believer just yet – United have, after all, let in 10 goals domestically thus far whilst scoring 13 – not I nor anybody can deny how a string of saves bordering on the impossible against Everton in his latest match are responsible for United rising back into the top four this season in an ironic inverse of fortunes to 2011. It was the attack that spoke volumes 3 years ago for United, when letting in goals was not an issue as long as matches were being won. It is the goal keeping – not perfect, but reflective of hard work – that is speaking volumes for United now.

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