Sir Alex Ferguson has had a good reputation of signing world class goalkeepers for Manchester United with the likes of Schmeichel and Van Der Sar both making over 180 appearances for the club and his fair share of mediocre ones such as Taibi, Howard and Carroll.
In the summer of 2011 came Ferguson’s biggest challenge to date. With no established keepers available to buy, as they were either tied down on a long term contract by their parent club or too old to invest in, United were forced to buy potential over established class.
We were heavily linked to German stopper Neuer but when he moved to European giants Bayern Munich from Schalke 04, United swooped to sign the highly rated Spanish star David De Gea from Atlético Madrid who, at the age of just 19, was far from the finished item.
Having being first choice keeper at Madrid for just over a season, the £17 million price tag that came with De Gea was seen by many fans as too much money for a goalkeeper with such little experience. The Spanish U21 keeper made his competitive debut against arch rivals Manchester City in the Community Shield in August 2011 and justified most fans worries by looking rather nervous, arguably being at fault for both of City’s goals in a game which fortunately ended up 3-2 to United.
This was the start of what was to be a very up and down debut season for De Gea at United.
His weaknesses were clear to see from more or less the start of the Premier League season with opposition teams using crosses to try and catch De Gea out due to his unfamiliarity of dealing with them. Like most Spanish keepers, he chose to punch the ball in situations where he could have easily caught the ball.
But the main thing which was clear to fans was that the potential was there and outstanding performances against title rivals Tottenham, Arsenal and Chelsea kept the critics quiet until a shock 6-1 defeat to City at Old Trafford left not just De Gea but a majority of the United team depleted.
In the 2011 Christmas period came De Gea’s lowest moment so far with the 2-2 draw against Blackburn. De Gea came to deal with a cross but made a shocking error which saw Blackburn defender Grant Hanley tap in and Blackburn came out eventual 3-2 winners.
Cue a backlash from fans and media with many suggesting that David should be sold in the upcoming transfer window which, fortunately, Sir Alex Ferguson didn’t take any notice of.
For a young lad who’d never really being out of his home country, to come to a completely new league with a different culture and be immediately expected to be anywhere near as good as United’s previous two superstar keepers was too much to ask. Some fans did take that into consideration but a lot were narrow minded enough to call for De Gea to walk out of his contract.
Since then, De Gea has grown and grown. After single handedly keeping United in the game in a 3-3 draw at Chelsea, the young Spaniard was finally praised on all front by fans, the media and most importantly, the United coaching staff. This was the turning point in De Gea’s Manchester United career.
After having corrective eye surgery in the summer of 2012, United’s very own Spanish superstar faced another challenge after a few inconsistent performances at the start of 2012-13 season. United’s so called number two Anders Lindegaard was given a chance and he took the chance with both hands which left De Gea benched.
With even Sir Alex Ferguson playing goalkeeper tombola, De Gea stepped up his game once again with his outstanding shot stopping and distribution being key to him claiming his starting XI spot back. He had finally started to silence the critics despite United struggling to keep clean sheets with a leaky defence.
Despite all the injuries, De Gea had finally achieved something which no one really expected him to do in such a short space of time. He’d earned the respect and trust of his back line, an essential part of any goalkeepers game.
He has grown exponentially in confidence. From being a skinny teenager to becoming more bulky and far more commanding in his area, De Gea has no doubt become United’s first choice keeper and also, a potential fans favourite.
With the tall Spaniard only just 23 and goalkeepers not really reaching their full potential until their early thirties, if he keeps improving at the rate he is now, how good can this young man be?