By Nathan Thomas.
After another assured performance at Goodison Park on Saturday the general opinion on David De Gea’s ability seems to be changing. Belief in the young Spaniard never wavered amongst most United fans however fans of opposition clubs as well as some sections of the media were quick to jump on De Gea after a couple of early season errors; in such a demanding role many would have crumbled under such mammoth pressure however United’s new number one has done nothing but rise to the challenge.
Over the years we have seen many a talented goalkeeper come to Old Trafford and crumble under the weight of expectation that is placed upon their shoulders. Tim Howard who I view as very talented, solid Premier League goalkeeper did very well in the first half of his maiden 2003/04 season only for a costly error against Porto in 2004 which sent the Reds out to shatter his confidence. After that error he was never the same goalkeeper at United but since he made the move to Everton in 2006 he has resurrected his form and has been a terrific signing for the Toffees showing how pressure can often over ride talent. Ben Foster was a similar case who showed good goalkeeping attributes as a stopper until he got a sustained spell in the first team in 2009/10 and seemingly fell apart. The England goalkeeper even spoke about the pressure at Man United after he moved to Birmingham in 2010 saying that he found it difficult to manage the relentless to pressure to win every single game.
It is these stories that makes De Gea’s revival even more astonishing given that he is only twenty, both Foster and Howard were in their mid to late twenties during their time at United and in theory should have been better equipped mentally to deal with the scrutiny that comes with the job of being number one at Manchester United. However in life there are some who buckle under pressure and others who thrive. De Gea endured a tough start to his United career no doubt, making costly errors in both of his first two games at the club, however even in the games where he made those errors he didn’t wilt and fall to pieces he still showed impressive pieces of goalkeeping and most vitally ‘kept his head’. His kicking was impeccable, there was no aimless hoofing into no man’s land it was measured, accurate kicking to a fellow team-mate. Like his illustrious predecessor Edwin van der Sar he also knew when to start the attack from the back by playing a simple ball to one of his defenders but as is the media in this country it was errors that were seized upon.
Since then though De Gea has come back in the most defiant manner possible, he has regained any confidence lost in his early games and with the guidance of both goalkeeping coach Eric Steele and the manager Sir Alex Ferguson is now showing the world why United were willing to splash out over eighteen million pounds for such a young stopper. He is far from the finished article of course with some of his handling of crosses a little suspect but he deserves huge credit for stamping out the mistakes and has now saved more shots than any other goalkeeper in the Premier League with twenty-eight. It is also worth remembering that De Gea has probably been tested more than any other United goalkeeper in recent years with the Reds giving the opposition a worrying amount of goal scoring opportunities. He has had to deal with this and post West Brom has dealt with them all, in each of the big games earlier in the season and recently against the likes of Spurs, Chelsea and Arsenal De Gea pulled out crucial saves, most notably from Ramires against Chelsea and the penalty save from van Persie at Old Trafford, which could perceivably have been the major turning point in the Spaniards early United career. He has also come through physical tests at Bolton and Stoke with a clean sheet and only conceding one at Stoke, of which he could have done nothing to prevent; he also made two world class saves in the first half at the Britannia to keep the score at 1-0 before half time.
Although he may not be the biggest physically he has plenty of time to fill out and has been put on the same training programme to that of Javier Hernandez last season in order to help him boost his strength and physique. However with him being fairly slight by goalkeeping standards comes other attributes, he is extremely agile, flexible and athletic, many times already in his career as a Red have we seen De Gea fling himself across goal to palm a ball wide. Furthermore you only have to look at goalkeepers like Iker Casillas to see that you don’t have to be huge to be a goalkeeper in modern day football.
United fans always had faith that the Boss had got the right man, we never doubted his ability given the amount he has won already with Spain and Atletico Madrid, and appearing in the Europa League final at the tender age of eighteen, the only question was could he handle the pressure. As I have already mentioned he is far from the finished article and has long way to go before being ranked alongside the likes of Schmeichel and van der Sar, however the way he has let immense criticism fall away like water off a ducks back is arguably as impressive as his kicking and his shot stopping ability. I can’t recall many goalkeepers at twenty who have been at the standard of De Gea and even fewer who possess his mental resilience, on the face of it he has everything needed to be a great United goalkeeper, the stage is his.
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