David De Gea is keen to emulate the careers of Edwin van der Sar and Peter Schmeichel by becoming a legendary goalkeeper at Manchester United.
The Spaniard experienced a tough start to his United career with a high-profile error against Manchester City in the traditional Wembley curtain-raiser, and a purported weakness at dealing with crosses saw many write him off, believing he was destined to be another Ferguson flop between the sticks.
However, after a rough initial start and losing his place in the team for a period, De Gea looks has transformed himself in the last 12 months and he was almost faultless during the title run-in, experiencing a career defining performance in the Bernabeu against Real Madrid in February.
The 22-year-old admitted his wiry frame was initially inadequate to cope with the rough and tumble of the Premier League but after a tailored diet and fitness plan, he has bulked up enough and feels at home with the enhanced physicality of English football.
“I knew I had to become bigger physically,” said De Gea.
”You can see I look different to when I first came here and I have much more muscle.
“I’ve worked hard in the gym – lifting heavy weights and doing a lot of exercises.
“It was a very intense regime. I changed my diet as well and now eat an awful lot more than I used to, to build myself up for the physical challenges of the English game.
“In training, the players would deliberately hit high balls into me and barge into me so I’d get used to that side of the English game.
“I actually enjoy the physical side of it now.”
The testing period at the start of his career now looks to be behind him and De Gea has heaped praise on the duo of Sir Alex Ferguson and Eric Steele in his rise from a shy, unassuming boy into officially the Premier League’s best goalkeeper.
“The trust that Sir Alex put in me gave me a lot of confidence,” he continued.
“He was like that with me from the very start.
“Eric Steele was a great goalkeeping coach who always looked after me and I will remember that.
“Now I have a new coach, in Chris Woods and I’m enjoying learning different things with him. I’ve improved over the last year and that’s down to the hard work I have done with all the coaches.
“It was hard at the beginning because I’d come from a different league and didn’t know what to expect in this league and with this type of football.
“I don’t think people appreciated just how hard it was for me coming to a new country at 19, as well as a different type of football.
“My immediate family came over with me from the start, but I missed my friends back home. Everything is now better and I’m very happy in Manchester.”
De Gea had a fantastic second half of the 2012/13 season and was an ever-present in the run-in as United went on to claim a 20th league title, a first for De Gea.
‘Big Dave’ also impressed for the Spain U21s and his assured performances between the sticks led to glowing praise from Iker Casillas. The Real Madrid stalwart claimed De Gea will go on to become the best goalkeeper in the world, a moniker which the former Atletico Madrid stopper is keen to live up to.
“It’s great that a goalkeeper as good as Iker has said that I could be the best of them all,” said De Gea.
“It’s very humbling but, yes, it’s possible. Those words motivate me to reach that goal. When Edwin van der Sar said he was leaving Manchester United, I wanted to be the man to replace him.
“I was given that chance and I’m not going to let it go. I would love if one day the fans speak of me in the same way they speak of Edwin and Peter Schmeichel. That would mean all the hard work has paid off.”
With an impressive highlight reel of saves to his name over the past few seasons and a PFA team of the season spot, De Gea is certainly going in the right direction to emulating the likes of Iker Casillas and Edwin Van Der Sar.
And if he continues in the same vein of form as the previous campaign, the only way is up for the 22-year-old.