David de Gea Was Manchester United's Player of 2013

Rob Dawson@@RobDawsonMENManchester United CorrespondentDecember 29, 2013

LONDON, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 01:  David De Gea of Manchester United celebrates after Wayne Rooney of Manchester United (not pictured) equalises to make it 1-1 during the Barclays Premier League Match between Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester United at White Hart Lane on December 1, 2013 in London, England.  (Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)
Michael Regan/Getty Images

Manchester United will never experience more change in a single year than they did in 2013.

Sir Alex Ferguson departed after more than 26 years, and chief executive David Gill followed him out of the door. Coaches Mike Phelan and Rene Meulensteen, both title winners under Ferguson, headed for the exit, too.

There's talk of rebuilding post-Ferguson, of a "transitional period" under a new manager. But one thing has remained constant: David de Gea.

The new era at Old Trafford has perhaps affected de Gea more than any other player. In the reshuffle he lost goalkeeping coach Eric Steele, the man who first travelled to Madrid to have a look at the Atletico teenager as a possible replacement for Edwin van der Sar. The same man who went out of his way to learn Spanish to help de Gea settle into life in Manchester. 

NORWICH, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 28:  David De Gea of Manchester United dives as Nathan Redmond of Norwich City (C) shoots wide during the Barclays Premier League match between Norwich City and  Manchester United at Carrow Road on December 28, 2013 in Norwich,
Michael Regan/Getty Images

In his place, David Moyes appointed former England goalkeeper Chris Woods.

But any fears de Gea might regress to the nervous boy who first arrived from Spain have long gone.

If anything, the 23-year-old has continued to improve—his late save at Hull on Boxing Day ensured United left the KC Stadium with three points. He made two more as they won a tight game against Norwich two days later.

It's been more than a year since his last spell out of the team—five games in November 2012—during which he's become a Premier League champion for the first time and was voted the league's best goalkeeper by the PFA.

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 26:  David De Gea of Manchester United looks on from the bench prior to the Barclays Premier League match between Manchester United and Wigan Athletic at Old Trafford on December 26, 2011 in Manchester, England.  (Photo by A
Alex Livesey/Getty Images

Ferguson left Moyes plenty of problems, but his goalkeeper isn't one of them.

His shot stopping has never been a problem, but then that's not the quality that marks out great goalkeepers.

Stopping shots is the least you expect of a high-end goalkeeper. It's a collection of other skills that separates out the best of the best.

The back-pass rule means it's vital that goalkeepers are comfortable with the ball at their feet, and de Gea is one of the best in the world alongside Barcelona's Victor Valdes.

SWANSEA, WALES - AUGUST 17: Michu (L) of Swansea City narrowly fails to guide the ball goalwards past David de Gea (R) of Manchester United during the Barclays Premier League match between Swansea City and Manchester United at the Liberty Stadium on Augus
Michael Steele/Getty Images

But top goalkeepers, especially ones playing in the Premier League, must also be confident when the ball is in the air. And it's under the high ball that de Gea has been most impressive in the last year.

After a bruising Premier League debut at West Brom in 2011, the sight of Phil Jones and Fabio da Silva trying to coach de Gea in the art of catching crosses will have worried United fans.

There have been nervous moments since; think Blackburn at home on New Year's Eve 2011 or Tottenham at White Hart Lane in January 2013.

LONDON, ENGLAND - APRIL 17:   Andy Carroll of West Ham United and David De Gea of Manchester United hug after the Barclays Premier League match between West Ham United and Manchester United at the Boleyn Ground on April 17, 2013 in London, England. (Photo
Jamie McDonald/Getty Images

But he's worked hard in the gym and on the training pitches at Carrington, and now when Andy Carroll thunders into him, as he did at Upton Park in April this year, he bounces straight back up, usually with the ball still safely in his gloves.

History will remember the 2012/13 season as the one during which United secured a record 20th league title. It will be remembered for Robin van Persie and the goals he scored and the matches he won.

And whatever happens this season, it will be remembered as Moyes' first at Old Trafford.

But in 2013, de Gea quietly announced himself as not just a competent goalkeeper but also a match-winner every bit as important as van Persie or Wayne Rooney.

The question marks over his future are not because Anders Lindegaard is breathing down his neck but because Barcelona are searching for a new No. 1.

But it's unthinkable that United would consider selling van Persie or Rooney, their two stars. And in 2013, de Gea joined that select group.