Manchester United fans once again woke up on Monday to news in various newspaper outlets about the goalkeeping situation at the club. The Daily Mail states that Sir Alex Ferguson has finally lost patience with David De Gea and is considering bringing an experienced keeper to the club in the January transfer window.
This sort of unsubstantiated reporting has become the norm among English newspapers since the retirement of Edwin van der Sar.
On one end of the spectrum, these stories are a lot to do with stories about the Red Devils selling more newspaper copies. On the other end, it is worth debating if the English media does have its own agenda when it comes to United's young Spanish stopper.
First Season Blues
When De Gea joined Manchester United from Athletico Madrid, he didn't just become the second most expensive goalkeeper in the world. He also became the anointed successor to van der Sar, one of the greatest United goalkeepers of all time.
Considering what had happened earlier when the Red Devils tried to replace Peter Schmeichel, it was clear that every mistake (big or small) from De Gea would be picked up and endlessly debated.
Of course, De Gea gave plenty of ammunition to his detractors with some high-profile mistakes in the first six months of his Old Trafford career. He struggled to cope with the physicality of English football and his slender frame and bravery were often called into question. His performance reached an all-time low on Sir Alex's 70th birthday, when his uncertainty in front of goal was a major factor in United's home defeat to Blackburn Rovers.
That performance led to De Gea being dropped in favor of the more steady Anders Lindegaard. However, an injury to Lindegaard allowed De Gea to regain his place in the team. He was an ever-present in the last three months of United's campaign.
Starting with the fixture against Chelsea when he made a wonder save in injury time, De Gea showed all the potential that United had paid for in the summer to establish himself as the team's No. 1 goalkeeper. There was still the occasional flap at a cross, but his performances were mostly solid and error-free.
Performances in the Current Season
The current season has seen Sir Alex rotating his goalkeepers, with both De Gea and Lindegaard getting a run of 4-5 games at various points of the season.
Despite the rotation policy and the changing personnel in defence in front of him, De Gea's performances this season have been a continuation of his form from late last season. He has made no obvious mistakes that have cost the team, except the one that led to Fulham's second goal at Old Trafford and the error for Newcastle's opening goal on Boxing Day.
Overall, De Gea has been more solid, and there has been a visible improvement in how he has dealt with the physical aspect of the English game. He has still made those spectacular saves, something never more apparent than in the derby against City. But he has also shown more confidence in claiming crosses by either punching or catching them.
In fact, there is a strong argument that the flimsiness of the defence in front of him is the reason behind United's poor defensive record this season. This article further bolsters the view about De Gea's improved solidity, and shows that De Gea has actually made fewer defensive errors this season than the likes of Petr Cech, Joe Hart and Pepe Reina.
The Media's Double Standards
The attitude of the English media towards De Gea is in stark contrast to that shown towards Joe Hart. Compared to the solidity he showed last year, the England stopper has made a number of high-profile errors this season.
Among these were his mistake for England against Sweden, the last minute goal in the derby against United and the goal conceded in the loss to Sunderland. Still, the English media doesn't shirk from calling him the best goalkeeper in the world, over the likes of Iker Casillas, Gianluigi Buffon and Petr Cech.
At the end, it is fair to acknowledge that David De Gea has a lot more to accomplish before proving his detractors wrong. However, the idea that his signing has been an expensive mistake by Ferguson is premature, wrong and reeks of irresponsible journalism.
Only time will tell whether De Gea's United career will be a success or a failure. However, in all probability, the stories will continue until he firmly establishes himself as United's undisputed first-choice goalkeeper. After all, stories about United struggling to replace a legend between the goalposts has much more juice and mileage for newspaper editors.
In the meantime, it is unfortunate that so many journalists are baying for the blood of a young, promising football player. The whole situation was summed up best by Sir Alex back in 2011, when he said (via Mirror Football):
For some reason they [the media] seem to be desperate for the boy to fail. That’s the impression I get and I don’t understand it...And they’ll all want interviews from him when he’s doing well.