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The iconic impact of David De Gea

A widely held opinion is that a goalkeeper is the hardest position in a squad to replace. While a striker can afford to make errors in the midst of settling into a team, a catastrophic error for a goalkeeper can be instantly fatal. This was illustrated in Manchester United’s quest to replace Peter Schmeichel, with Fabien BarthezRoy Carroll and Tim Howard failing to replicate the brilliance of Schmeichel.

However, in 2005, Alex Ferguson finally found a goalkeeper fit to fill the shoes of the towering Dane. Upon the arrival of Edwin van der Saar, United’s ongoing goalkeeper dilemma came to an end. Van der Saar was sensational in the following six years while winning four Premier League trophies and a European Cup in the process. An issue for United was that Van der Saar was a short term fix.

As the Dutchman joined United at the age of 34, it was clear that United would have to replace Van der Saar fairly imminently. With Van der Saar’s age in mind, Sir Alex Ferguson invested his belief in Ben Foster, with the hope the Englishman could be the heir to Van Der Saar’s throne. But following a catastrophic error in United’s 4-3 Derby-day victory over Manchester City, Foster was regarded as being substandard in relation to the United goalkeeping jersey.

However, just two years later, Ferguson signed a goalkeeper that would become an iconic figure at Manchester United, David De Gea. In the wake of his £18 million transfer from Atletico Madrid, De Gea struggled. On the Spaniard’s debut for Manchester United, he made a shaky start against arch-rivals Manchester City in the Community Shield, failing to save unremarkable efforts from Joleon Lescott and Edin Dzeko.

Throughout the 2011/12 season, De Gea continued to struggle. A major weakness of De Gea was his inability to deal with aerial duals, which was partly due to his lack of strength, and arguably a lack of confidence. In the 2012/13 season, De Gea and United won the Premier League title, for the twentieth time in the club’s history. In spite of winning the first league title of his career, De Gea had a mixed season.

While David De Gea started twenty-eight of United’s thirty-eight-game league campaign, the Spaniard found himself dropped for Anders Lindegaard for ten of those games. In spite of briefly losing his place in the starting eleven, De Gea did provide moments of brilliance. A notable example of this is his remarkable save in an away fixture at Stamford Bridge, to deny Juan Mata’s free kick.

Furthermore, David De Gea’s statistics provided good reading for the Spaniard. Throughout the campaign, De Gea had an overall save percentage of 76%, while making 84 saves. In comparison, Manchester City’s then goalkeeper Joe Hart, had a save percentage of 69%, while Petr Cech’s stood at 77%, just 1% more than De Gea. The fact that at just 22 De Gea was emulating Joe Hart and close to being on par with Petr Cech, illustrates the extraordinary development of the Spaniard.

In spite of De Gea’s already sensational performances, his development following Sir Alex Ferguson’s departure was to propel him into being widely regarded as an elite level goalkeeper. In the post Ferguson era, David De Gea has won four Sir Matt Busby Player Of The Year awards, all of which have been completely deserved. 

During De Gea’s United career, there have been countless games in which the shot-stopper’s performances have been out of this world. The first of these was in a 2-1 home win at home to Everton, when De Gea saved a penalty from Leighton Baines, prevailed victorious in a ‘one on one’ with Steven Naismith, and provided a stupendous double save in the dying minutes to secure United all three points.

Another iconic performance by De Gea was in a 3-1 away victory over Arsenal in 2017, when the Spaniard made a remarkable 14 saves, the joint-most since Opta statistics began in 2003/04. The heroics of De Gea were also illustrated by the fact Arsenal had 16 shots on target and scored only one goal. The statistical evidence combined with De Gea’s superb double save from Alexandre Lacazette and Alexis Sanchez, emphasises the majestic brilliance of De Gea.

However, it could also be argued that De Gea’s goalkeeping performance at the Emirates was the greatest in Manchester United’s history. In the midst of all the talk surrounding the potential departure of Paul Pogba, the importance of De Gea has largely been understated. Without De Gea’s sensational performances over the past five years, it’s bordering on scary to contemplate where United would be without the former Atletico Madrid goalkeeper.

The countless superhuman performances De Gea has provided must surely have earned De Gea a very strong chance in the debate of United’s greatest ever goalkeepers. There are currently strong rumours that De Gea will extend his stay at United, which will provide United fans with a rare source of celebration. While the current state of United is one of mediocrity, without David De Gea, it would be one of disaster.

Written by Alexei Braithwaite

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