David De Gea: Did Criticism Actually Benefit the Manchester United Goalkeeper?

Kyle DillerContributor IIIFebruary 27, 2012

NORWICH, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 26:  David De Gea of Manchester United in action during the Barclays Premier League match between Norwich City and Manchester United at Carrow Road on February 26, 2012 in Norwich, England.  (Photo by Jamie McDonald/Getty Images)
Jamie McDonald/Getty Images

David de Gea silenced critics since his return to the first team with some breathtaking saves, all while demonstrating a fantastic mentality to succeed in the face of adversity.

De Gea was dropped by Sir Alex Ferguson at the turn of the year after a run of poor performances. After months of intense media scrutiny, it looked as though de Gea would remain on the bench for the remainder of the season.

Then, Anders Lindegaard picked up an injury in training that ruled him out for a month. Suddenly, de Gea was thrust back into the first team, and he looked a goalkeeper capable of living up to his lofty £17 million price tag.

Some worried that dropping de Gea would damage his confidence, but there's no sign of that. Quite the opposite, in fact. It seemed to serve as motivation, as de Gea returned to the first team and produced some of his best performances since his transfer from Atletico Madrid.

Against Norwich City on Sunday, de Gea looked unbeatable. For the first time since he joined United, de Gea appeared to have a strong presence in the box. He continued to demonstrate the same shot-stopping ability he's shown all season, and it's hard to dispute that he has the natural talent.

The biggest thing, however, was his performance in the air. Every cross that came into the box, de Gea either caught assuredly or quickly punched clear. There was finally a sense of confidence from the young Spaniard as he turned in a Man of the Match performance, and arguably the best of his United career.

All of this on the back of performances against Chelsea and Liverpool, both which included top saves, of which the most noteworthy was his stop against Juan Mata's free kick in United's 3-3 draw at Stamford Bridge.

Make no mistake, though, de Gea is still going to come under fire. There will continue to be mistakes. Even Edwin van der Sar made errors in his peak years, and de Gea is still only 21 years old. Every move is going to be put under a microscope, each error scrutinized and intensified in the media.

Whoever succeeded van der Sar between the posts was destined for this treatment.

De Gea was presented with a monumental opportunity at such a young age. To replace one of the game's greatest goalkeepers is a daunting task, but one that de Gea embraced when he completed his move to Old Trafford.

Any rival fan would want to see him crumble under the immense pressure of such a challenge.

His introduction to life at United was a baptism of fire. A young man, especially for a goalkeeper, in a new country where he didn't speak the language, and his first fixture for his new club was against bitter rivals Manchester City in the Community Shield.

De Gea was at fault for Edin Dzeko's goal in the match, but then pulled off some top saves to keep United in the game as the team rallied from a 0-2 deficit to win 3-2. Regardless, the young Spaniards' critics swarmed to him like sharks who sensed blood after that mistake.

It is undeniable that de Gea made some crucial mistakes since then, and the criticism continued to mount. It all culminated against Blackburn Rovers, the game which ultimately saw him dropped for Lindegaard. De Gea couldn't cope with crosses being played into the box, being beaten in the air for Blackburn's winner, and his confidence looked shattered.

Taking him out of the team may have been a masterstroke by Ferguson, however. It got de Gea away from the criticism and let him focus on improving his game for the style of play in the Premier League. In the first half of the season, he had been safe. No matter the error, Sir Alex struck by him. His position was comfortable.

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 23:  David de Gea of Manchester United looks dejected during the Barclays Premier League match between Manchester United and Manchester City at Old Trafford on October 23, 2011 in Manchester, England.  (Photo by Laurence Grif
Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images

Once dropped to the bench, it seemed to serve as motivation for when he did get back in the team. He has all the talent necessary to be the first-choice goalkeeper, and it was always going to be just a matter of time until he got his place back in the starting XI.

De Gea has always shown he possesses the natural ability to be a successful goalkeeper. He is a brilliant shot-stopper with excellent reactions and great agility. Saves like the one against Mata demonstrate that. He has a gift with his natural ability, and you cannot teach that.

However, you can teach a goalkeeper how to cope with crosses. De Gea never would have been faced with such an aerial threat in La Liga, so of course it was going to take time to adapt. He showed great signs of improvement in this aspect of his game at Carrow Road.

In just a few short weeks, he banished memories of his past errors. Instead, de Gea is giving people a new reason to talk about him. Breathtaking, decisive saves against some of United's greatest rivals, all while showing significant signs of improvement in asserting himself in the box and dealing with aerial threats.

De Gea looked assured and confident against Norwich. He gave off the attitude that he deserved to be the first-choice goalkeeper at United, and produced the performance to back it up.

Lindegaard will no doubt be cursing his injury, as de Gea's returned to the team in his absence and made the absolute most of his chances. At this rate, Lindegaard should not expect to get his place back in the team. The goalkeeper position was up for grabs, and de Gea has both gloves firmly grasped on the prize.