The jury is out about the suitability of David de Gea as Manchester United’s first-choice goalkeeper.
Sir Alex Ferguson seems undecided about his favourite, with Anders Lindegaard and de Gea seemingly interchangeable at the moment.
A week ago, it seemed that the manager was veering towards using the Dane as his Premier League choice with de Gea covering the European games and cup competitions.
Due to the physical nature of the domestic league and de Gea’s shortcomings in this respect, it seemed a sensible split.
Then, surprisingly, de Gea was picked to start against Newcastle, who possess two of the most combative strikers around in Papiss Cisse and Demba Ba.
His performance in that game was mixed, to say the least, and he remains an enigma that must be causing Sir Alex sleepless nights.
While he has few peers as an agile, athletic shot-stopper, de Gea's ability to dominate his area under the sort of aerial bombardment—not uncommon in the Premier League—is more than questionable. The sense of panic that spreads through the defence when he is physically tested is almost palpable.
Despite his unrivalled success as a manager, the goalkeeping position has regularly caused Ferguson angst over his 26 years in charge. Only three keepers—Peter Schmeichel, Fabien Barthez and Edwin van der Sar—topped 100 appearances during his reign. These three, in fact, totalled nearly 800 matches between them; more than twice the number of all the other keepers put together.
It is a worrying statistic that five of the keepers—Massimo Taibi, Andy Goram, Ricardo Lopez, Nick Culkin and Tony Coton—managed only eight appearances in total!
So what reasons can we find for this goalkeeping dilemma?
The pressure of playing for an incredibly successful club with an unrivalled heritage is, I believe, a major reason for some keepers being unable to handle the huge demands placed upon them.
If you take Tim Howard, for example. He struggled at United but has blossomed at Everton where expectations are not so great.
Attitude and personality are so important as a goalkeeper. Schmeichel exuded confidence, which fell just short of arrogance. Van der Sar always appeared implacable and unflustered. Such qualities are enormously helpful in dealing with the pressures that accompany the No. 1 shirt.
It is too early, perhaps, to ascertain whether or not de Gea is made of the "right stuff" but the positive qualities he has exhibited so far leads me to believe that he should be given a good crack of the whip.
At the moment, Sir Alex has to take the rough with the smooth and be philosophical about the situation. Statistically, the goals conceded through de Gea’s errors are almost certainly outweighed by the outstanding reflex saves he has made, so, you could argue he is in credit.
Toughening him up in order to resist the hefty challenges will enable him to physically dominate his area and is of paramount importance. However, a possible side effect of bulking up too much could be a decrease in his agility. A balance needs to be found.
One thing is for certain, he couldn’t be in a better place to find that balance. Hopefully, with patience and gentle nurturing, he will eventually prove to be the talent Sir Alex prophesied he would be when he signed him.
Who knows, one day he may even join the elusive 100-plus club.