Manchester United have proven to be finders of good ‘keepers. But what lies in store for them?


Game after game, season after season, David De Gea regularly thwarted Manchester United’s opponents with scarcely believable saves. It was for this reason that he has been forgiven by the club’s fan-base after a poor end to the 2018/19 season, where only a few United players excelled. Despite this loss of form, De Gea’s quality was never in doubt and he is on the verge of signing a new contract with the club.

United also recently tied down the highly-rated Dean Henderson, who is yet to appear for the first-team, to a new deal. The club now finds itself well-stocked in the goalkeeping department and Henderson’s loan to newly-promoted Sheffield United could leave the club in an even better position this time next year. De Gea is the club’s undisputed number one and that is unlikely to change in the near future.

The Spaniard, who joined United in 2011 as a replacement for legendary custodian Edwin van der Sar, has been a consistent performer for the club since the 2013/14 season, having only shown flashes of his abilities in the seasons prior. These initial struggles seemed to stem from the time it took him to settle, both in England and at United. After almost leaving the club in 2015, he signed a new deal which is again on the verge of extension.

The new deal is likely to keep him at United well into his 30s, which means the club will have been the benefactors of his peak years as a goalkeeper. The former Atletico Madrid player also finds himself a candidate for the role of United captain, which is unsurprising as he often leads by example through his performances. He has also been a role model for the younger players at the club and has previously been captain of Spain’s U21 team.

Sergio Romero has served as De Gea’s deputy since the 2015/16 season. The Argentine was signed by his former AZ Alkmaar manager Louis van Gaal during the Dutchman’s term as United manager. Romero arrived on a free transfer from Sampdoria as a replacement for De Gea, who eventually ended up staying at the club. The 32 year old possesses a wealth of experience in various leagues, having also played for AS Monaco in France and Racing Club in his homeland.

This transfer proved to be a bargain for United as Romero, formerly Argentina’s first-choice goalkeeper, has performed reliably when called upon, even playing a key role in United’s triumph in the 2016/17 UEFA Europa League. Romero also boasts 27 clean sheets in just 45 appearances for the club, giving him the most clean sheets per game by any United ‘keeper to have played more than three competitive games for the club in its history.

It is conceivable that he may decide to move back to Argentina in the future or step back at United to allow the club to make room for a younger deputy, particularly if one of the on-loan youngsters excels in the 2019/20 season. Lee Grant meanwhile, was signed by the club last year to serve as third-choice, thereby allowing United’s younger goalkeepers to go on loans to gain experience and speed up their development.

The 36 year old previously received a Man of the Match award at Old Trafford, after spectacularly thwarting United for Stoke City in a 1-1 draw in the 2016/17 Premier League. Despite only making a single competitive appearance for the club, Grant boasts a wealth of experience in the lower tiers of English football as well as the Premier League. Upon signing for the club, he mentioned that he still has much to learn, even at his age.

Having been the only native English-speaker in United’s goalkeeping department prior to this summer, Grant took to learning Spanish so as to better communicate with colleagues De Gea and Romero, as well as goalkeeping coach Emilio Alvarez. He is likely to retire soon and take up a coaching role at the club. While still a player, he represents a safety net for the first-team, in the event that one of their regular ‘keepers is side-lined.

Joel Castro Pereira currently finds himself outside United’s plans for the 2019/20 season. The Swiss-born Portuguese stopper has yet to fully convince any of his loan clubs and has been in and out of their teams over the course of his loan spells. Previous United manager and compatriot José Mourinho hailed Pereira as Portugal’s next number one goalkeeper, praise which he has since failed to justify.

That being said, the fact that he is still at United at the age of 23, suggests that the club feel that he is still far from his peak and they are willing to continue his development. He is probably going to spend the next year on loan so he can get more playing time. Pereira still has plenty of time on his side to fulfil his potential but he needs to start kicking on now to reward United’s patience with him and perhaps step up to take over a role from one of Romero or Grant.

Dean Henderson enjoyed a terrific season on loan at Sheffield United in 2018/19, helping them to promotion to the Premier League. He has since signed a new deal with United and re-joined the Blades on loan for the 2019/20 season, where he will likely be the first-choice goalkeeper in the Premier League. This is a considerable boost to the development of the Cumbrian, who has been on the radar of English national team manager Gareth Southgate, despite having never played in England’s top division.

A good 2019/20 season for Henderson would give United a welcome headache, as they would either have to make room for him in their goalkeeping department or sell him. At just 22, he is the youngest of all the ‘keepers with first-team experience on United’s books and still has many years left at a high level. Henderson also has a different set of skills to those currently in United’s first-team, having the good footwork and distribution associated with more modern goalkeepers.

He has also stated that he believes he can be United’s number one ‘keeper in the future and this is certainly the attitude required to succeed at the club. United also have a few other goalkeepers on their books, namely Kieran O’Hara, Matej Kovar, and Alex Fojticek. English-born O’Hara, 23, will spend the 2019/20 season on loan at Burton Albion in England’s League One. It is unlikely that he has a future at the club, unless he is willing to fight for second or third-choice at United.

This would be unwise, particularly as he is under consideration for the Irish national team and would be more likely to get more game time at a smaller club, in order to further his development. Under-19 Czech Republic and Slovakia internationals Kovar and Fojticek will battle it out for the spot of reserve team goalkeeper for the 2019/20 season. Kovar has previously trained with the first-team after injury side-lined one of their regulars and this is likely to continue in the 2019/20 season.

Both he and Fojticek will continue their development with the reserves and will only be promoted to the first-team as short-term cover. United will be looking to assess their options with regard to these players at the end of the season, particularly as the recent drive to recruit highly-rated youngsters from other clubs hasn’t included any goalkeepers. The club has instead opted to continue the development of players already at the club, showing faith in these players.

To conclude, it is the preference of most United supporters that Henderson be integrated into the first-team as soon as possible. If he proves himself to be a reliable, Premier League-level goalkeeper, the club would undoubtedly find it harder to hold on to him. Having said that, United have gone about refreshing their squad with younger, more exciting players for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and co. to develop.

Henderson and Pereira are goalkeepers in this mould and should be included in the club’s plans for the future, perhaps ahead of the ageing Romero and Grant.

Written by Shiven Nayager

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