At the time of writing, there is a breaking story that David De Gea has agreed a new five-year, £375,000 per week contract with Manchester United which will be signed when the team returns from Australia. So we all breathe a communal sigh of relief, high five each other and go back to arguing about whether Harry Maguire is really worth £85 million. But should we be so ecstatic?
I mean, I don’t want to sound ungrateful, but hang on a minute. This may well be a fantastic coup for the club, but then, signing Wayne Rooney on a five-year, £300,000-a-week contract in 2014, signing Alexis Sanchez for free on a five-year, £500,000-a-week contract in January 2018 and extending José Mourinho’s contract by three years in the same month also seemed like good ideas at the time, didn’t they? And look how they turned out.
The fact is that De Gea finished last season in terrible form, making mistake after costly mistake. Whilst I am not in any way blaming solely De Gea for United’s failure to finish in the top four, the fact is that if had not made those mistakes, United would have been up there despite all the other problems.
Of course, everyone is entitled to a dip in form and as I said, David was by no means alone in playing poorly, but what if this was more than a dip in form? What if the player peaked at age 26/27 and continues on a downward decline? What if there are concentration or confidence problems that just persist? Is this the right time to give him a five-year contract? Would it not have been safer to go with a three-year contract with an option to extend? That is a £39,000,000 gamble that I don’t think needed to be taken.
I was absolutely convinced that De Gea would be Paris bound this Summer. He hadn’t signed a contract, they were losing Buffon; they could afford to pay him what he wanted; his buddy, Ander Herrera, would be there as well … it all seemed to fit like a glove, and United would probably have cashed in and accepted, say £40-£50 million rather than see him go for free a year later. Yet PSG do not appear to have come knocking. Why not? If De Gea is one of the top three keepers in the world, why on earth would PSG not grab him with both hands? And why have Real Madrid not come back in for the keeper, when they clearly used to covet him, don’t appear happy with Courtois and have still never really replaced Iker Casillas? If he is one of the top three keepers in the world, that is …
Perhaps the fact is that the rest of the world does not agree with Manchester United that De Gea is a £300,000 per week plus goalkeeper. The lapses that seemed so uncharacteristic at Old Trafford last season have been commonplace when De Gea has represented his national side, to the point that a large proportion of Spain fans do not believe he is good enough to represent their country. After a number of public demands for him to be sidelined, for example, after a howler against Portugal in Euro 2018, he now appears to have been dropped in favour of Kepa Arrizabalaga. De Gea has hardly shown his best form in the Champions League either, in particular when letting a soft Leonel Messi effort slither under his body and over the line to effectively end United’s chances of a quarter final comeback last season.
You can perhaps understand why PSG are targeting €50 million-ish Gigi Donnarumma, who at 20 years of age has the potential to be the greatest keeper of his generation, and who will probably be available on a contract of around half the price of De Gea’s (Donnarumma is currently earning around £100,000 per week).
Is commitment also an issue? Would De Gea be signing with United had PSG or Real come knocking? You kind of start to feel a bit used, don’t you? A little like when Marouane Fellaini refused the new contract that was on the table at Old Trafford and spent the Summer touting himself about the continent, only to reluctantly accept United’s deal at the last minute when it finally dawned on him that maybe other clubs didn’t think he was worth what he was asking for. And here we go again, except that this time, the United board have folded, increasing their offer to a pretty astronomical figure for a goalkeeper. Remember, his current £240,000 a week contract makes him already the world’s best paid keeper (Neuer by contrast earns £150,000 a week), and that is set to increase by more than 50%. It also will make him the 9th best-paid player in the world. Why did the United board feel it was necessary to increase the contract by so much, and for so long, when nobody was knocking on the door to sign him, and after he had just put in months of shaky performances?
Don’t get me wrong, I am glad he is staying and am confident that he will be back to his best next season. But was this a good piece of business? Of that I am not so sure.