How Do You Solve A Problem Like De Gea?
February 3, 2012 2 Comments
Mark Bosnich, Massimo Taibi, Fabien Barthez, Andy Goram, Paul Rachubka, Raymond Van der Gouw, Ricardo, Tim Howard, Roy Carroll, Edwin Van der Sar, Ben Foster, Tomasz Kuszczak, Ben Amos, Anders Lindegaard, and David De Gea. These are the 15 goalkeepers who have started for Manchester United since the legendary Peter Schmeichel retired in 1999. Whereas Newcastle had Shay Given, Blackburn had Brad Friedel, and Bolton still has Jussi Jaaskelainen, it’s been something of a circus in the United goal for the majority of the last 13 years (the Van der Sar years aside).
David De Gea, the £18 million man, is the one expected to fill the void left by Van der Sar. However, his start to life in Manchester has been anything but convincing, with the barrage of mistakes beginning back in the Community Shield against Man City. Since then he has found himself in and out of the side, with game-changing errors costing United points against Blackburn, Liverpool, and Basel in the Champions League. While De Gea has been a bag of nerves, backup keeper Anders Lindegaard has brought a sense of calm to the side and has seemingly become the number one for the rest of the season. But with such a large price tag attached, there is no doubt that Sir Alex intends to make De Gea the main man in goal for the coming years. So let’s examine why the De Gea experiment has struggled thus far and what can be done to rectify the situation.
His Age: It’s daunting enough for any goalkeeper to come into a club like United to try and settle immediately, but it’s important to remember that De Gea is only 21 – a boy. No player is fully developed at 21; young players naturally make mistakes, but goalkeepers are thrust into the spotlight more quickly than midfielders or strikers. And because we’re dealing with Manchester United, every error is blown up to absurd proportions. Perspective please, evil media. Time is a virtue.
His Stature: Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez had the same issue when he joined United last season. He was supremely talented but needed to bulk up in order to handle the rough-and-tumble of Premier League defenders such as Chris Samba and John Terry. Just a few months later, he noticeably bulked up and showed he can cut it with the best players in the country, even consolidating top scorer Dimitar Berbatov to the bench. So why on earth has Fergie not done the same thing with De Gea?
Mistakes highlight issues pretty quickly, and De Gea’s slight frame (hell, he’s a stick) has made him vulnerable against big aggressive center-forwards. Liverpool’s Andy Carroll was a constant thorn in his side last weekend, while Blackburn’s Grant Hanley overpowered De Gea in the air to secure Rovers a shock win at Old Trafford. Until the muscles grow, De Gea will continue to struggle with corners and free kicks.
Culture Shock: This is the main reason I disagree with Sir Alex throwing De Gea in the firing line so soon. Having spent all of his fledgling career in Spain with Atletico Madrid, he was bound to struggle with the differences between Spanish and English football. In La Liga, players aren’t nearly as aggressive with goalkeepers as they are in England. De Gea was particularly rattled at Anfield when Carroll knocked him over; he proceeded to walk right up to Carroll and yell in his face; Carroll just smiled. Best get used to it, David. A goalkeeper must be a commanding and calming presence, and with De Gea appearing to be a reserved, “aw shucks” type of character, his personality development on the field will be essential if he is to become United’s true #1.
Ferguson was right to give De Gea a break and install Lindegaard as the starter for the time being. However with the news that the Dane will be out for a month with an ankle injury, it seems De Gea will get an unexpected run in the team again, starting at Stamford Bridge on Sunday. He could still become a hero this season, so stick with him United fans. But regardless of what happens, these experiences will make him mentally stronger for next season, and with some weightlifting and the return of Nemanja Vidic, hopefully we will soon see this young keeper get back to doing what he does best.