David De Gea: Why Manchester United's Keeper Is Worth the Pain

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David De Gea: Why Manchester United's Keeper Is Worth the Pain
Jamie McDonald/Getty Images

The more altruistic Manchester United fan sees David de Gea flap at a cross and cringes, feeling the young keeper's pain as acutely as the man himself.

Last weekend it was Demba Ba giving the Spaniard a nightmare worse than Elm Street—the latest in a long line of tough opponents out-muscling the skinny keeper in his own penalty area. But this is a given—de Gea's struggles have been well documented, with countless words spilt on the topic by detractors and cautious supporters alike.

Whether or not you're a fan of United's semi-No. 1 man between the sticks can be accurately measured by whether you're an optimist or a pessimist.

There are two lines of thinking on de Gea.

One—that he is a keeper with huge potential and incredible reflexes who only needs to iron out a few minor flaws to become one of the world's best. Or, two—that the fundamental flaws in his game far outweigh his shot-stopping abilities, and consequently see him labelled as a serious liability.

Incidentally, if you follow the second of the two, you are more than likely an Anders Lindegaard fan—no shame in this, just saying.

I think back to the ill-fated Ben Foster, whose dawdling at the feet of Carlos Tevez and failure to meet a cross before Kenwyne Jones effectively cut short what had briefly been considered a promising Old Trafford career.

Indeed, Sir Alex Ferguson's now-infamous statement that he believed Foster was "the best England goalkeeper," still didn't mean any slack was cut for a man who made only a few, but critical errors during his brief stints in goal (via The Standard).

As for de Gea, lack of strength has been blamed for his shortcomings, but is that really the issue?

Take Edwin van der Sar, Manchester United's second greatest keeper in the Sir Alex Ferguson era, for example. The Dutchman far from resembled one of The Expendables in brawn, but possessed a pair of gloves safer than most of his contemporaries in the game.

It was his decision-making skills and presence in the box that separated him from the rest of the pack.

De Gea is still quite a way from possessing the same sort of presence. The man who lives in no man's land often looks afraid to tell Rio Ferdinand off for a mistake, or bark orders at a wandering Patrice Evra.

On the rare occasion when he is caught by cameras with his mouth agape, it is usually to voice a cry of inner frustration.

Of course, he is still only 21 years old, and it may sound prematurely jaundiced of me to be so critical, but such is the territory that comes with being a Manchester United player.

Expectations are as high, if not higher, at Old Trafford, than at any other club in Europe.

But despite what you've just read, I actually belong to the group of optimists—those who believe de Gea should be given an extended spell as United's No. 1 to earn that presence and find his voice amongst veterans.

It is a pleasure to see him make the type of incredible acrobatic saves his sharp reflexes and wiry 6'4" frame allows.

Michael Regan/Getty Images

Compared to the "lucky dip" nature of a David de Gea performance, with Anders Lindegaard you get exactly what it says on the tin.

He won't flap at crosses, steers clear of no man's land and will provide a solid (if unspectacular) fixture behind the defence. Naturally, he is unlikely to prevent a shot destined for the top corner hitting the back of his net, but that only speaks for how rare a breed his rival is.

It may seem like folly to compare two men who play positions completely unlike the other, but de Gea reminds me of Cristiano Ronaldo in a way. Capable of dribbling past four flat-footed defenders, and yet equally capable of tripping over his own feet, Ronaldo divided opinion with his abilities and failings early in his career.

But the point was that he could dribble around four defenders—something few others are able to claim.

The flaws in his game were ironed out over the course of his first few seasons in Manchester and with patience and excellent coaching, a more complete player was moulded.

De Gea is capable of making the kind of saves few others can and more patience should be allowed accordingly.

His potential is far too great for United to dump a £20 million prospect when everything doesn't work out immediately.

Naturally, he will cause United fans far more pain in the next few months and even years. But the glory of the finished product will quickly erase moments like these from the memory.

 

What is your opinion of David de Gea? Should he be United's No. 1, or is Lindegaard more deserving of that role?

Follow @MaxTowle

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