by Teo Teng Kiat
When Edwin Van der Sar announced his retirement during last season after six years of goalkeeping excellence between the sticks, all United supporters immediately wondered who was going to replace him. Between Schmeichel and Van der Sar, Old Trafford has seen a number of custodians who came and went, with none of them ever filling the big gloves of the Great Dane effectively. The likes of Carroll, Barthez, Bosnich, Taibi, Ricardo, Howard, Foster all failed, until the immense Flying Dutchman arrived from Fulham. Thus, it was imperative that the manager got his successor right this time round.
That person was unveiled yesterday, when what was probably the worst-kept secret in United’s transfer dealings this pre-season was confirmed, as David de Gea signed for a reported fee of £18million from Atlético Madrid on a five-year contract. The Spanish goalkeeper had long been expected to sign for United, especially once it was apparent that Manuel Neuer was going to Bayern. And so it was, when the shotstopper was spotted having a medical a few days after winning the U21 European Championship with Spain, that we all knew the deal was going to be done.
I have to say I am genuinely excited at this third signing by the club, with no disrespect to Jones and Young. He is only 20 years old, but already the first-choice ‘keeper for Atlético for the past one and a half seasons, after emerging through their youth ranks. At national youth level, he helped Spain to a U17 European Championship in 2007 as well as the runner-up spot at the U17 World Cup that same year, and was in the 30-man provisional squad for the 2010 World Cup before being cut, mainly due to the experience of the other three ‘keepers (Reina, Valdes, Casillas).
I first heard of him when he was just breaking into the Atlético first-team, and during last season, I watched a few La Liga matches involving Atlético. During two games involving Real Madrid and Barcelona, De Gea acquitted himself very well, where his reflexes and agility helped keep the scoreline down for his side. More recently, during the U21 European Championship, which Spain won, he was composed and calm at the back, conceding only twice in five games.
It has been said that the mark of a great ‘keeper is to do absolutely nothing for most of a game, and yet still be able to make a good save when required. De Gea definitely demonstrated glimpses of that, notably during an incident in the match against England where Spain were dominating. During a rare counter-attack, Sturridge had a shot which looked to be going in, but for De Gea’s impressive reflex save, after all he had done for the past 44 minutes was to pace his goalmouth area.
Furthermore, he looks rather adept with the ball at his feet, although admittedly not as assured as Van der Sar was. But this kid has age on his side, and the most important thing is to let him find his feet in English football, instead of hammering him straightaway when he makes the inevitable mistake early on in his United career; remember, Van der Sar was 34 when he arrived, but this lad is only 20.
With 11 clean sheets in 38 league games (this is rather credible given the poor defence he had in front of him), and having experienced winning the Europa League and Super Cup, De Gea is certainly no rookie, and United are signing someone who has the potential to keep goal for the next 20 years, if he develops well and copes with the increased pressure and spotlight on him.
Welcome to Old Trafford, David “van” de Gea.
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