David De Gea Succeeding Where Others Failed to Overcome Poor Start at Man United

Rob Dawson@@RobDawsonMENManchester United CorrespondentOctober 7, 2014

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There are few clubs in the world that attract more attention than Manchester United

Like Real Madrid, Barcelona or Bayern Munich, the spotlight never goes out. For some, the pressure is too much. It can envelope players, making the most simple pass feel like a challenge.

It's especially true for United's goalkeepers. At Old Trafford, mistakes don't just cost goals but trophies and championships.

BASEL - NOVEMBER 26:  Fabien Barthez of Man Utd shows his frustration during the FC Basel v Manchester United UEFA Champions League, Second phase match at St Jacob Park on November 26, 2002 in Basel, Switzerland. (Photo by Ben Radford/Getty Images)
Ben Radford/Getty Images

Some very good, experienced goalkeepers have tried and failed.

Mark Bosnich was 27 when he was signed as Peter Schmeichel's replacement in 1999. He had made more than 200 appearances for Aston Villa but only managed 30 for United before he was cast aside.

Massimo Taibi, a £4.5 million buy from Venezia, managed just four. 

Fabien Barthez was a World Cup winner when he arrived from Monaco in 2000. But even he was only first choice for three seasons before he was sent on loan to Marseille. 

Tim Howard has become a solid Premier League goalkeeper at Everton and starred for the United States at last summer's World Cup. But he didn't make the grade at United.

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

Sir Alex Ferguson was gambling when he decided 20-year-old David De Gea, after just one full season in La Liga, was the man to replace Edwin van der Sar in the summer of 2011. 

It looked for a while like it might not pay off. This week, De Gea told the Manchester Evening News he considered returning to Spain as criticism of his early performances at United reached its height:

I think that experience at the start at United has helped me be the player and man I am now. When you have bad moments you have to improve. You have to become stronger to deal with it and I believe I have become stronger. I am a much better goalkeeper now.

I was difficult when you get a lot of criticism like I did.

But I kept strong and I always tried to remain positive. I loved training. It was a great pleasure so I just did my work and worked through it.

Those early days were difficult for me and my family. But when you play for a big club like Manchester United it is normal when you don’t play well.

I am glad it happened in some ways because the criticism makes you stronger.

A goalkeeper is a difficult position and you make mistakes. It is normal. But you have to be strong in your mind to get through it all and get better.

I think I am playing the best football of my career. I have been here for three years and in the beginning it was difficult. Now I am ready for everything.

De Gea has had the benefit of two good goalkeeper coaches at Old Trafford.

Eric Steele, who worked under Ferguson, took the time to learn Spanish to aid communication between the two. 

Steele improved De Gea's diet and put him on a personal gym programme to bulk him up. Chris Woods was brought in by David Moyes and De Gea was one of the few players to improve last season. Maybe the only one.

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

His match-winning display against Everton on Sunday suggests he's still getting better, despite Woods' departure in the summer.

De Gea also has Ferguson to thank for guiding him through his shaky start. After struggling during a 3-2 defeat to Blackburn on New Year's Eve in his first season, he was taken out of the firing line for four games.

In his second game back in the team, he made a stunning save from Juan Mata's free-kick during a 3-3 draw with Chelsea at Stamford Bridge. He was an ever-present for the rest of the season. The following season he was named in the PFA Premier League team of the year.

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 05:  Leighton Baines of Everton takes and has a penalty kick saved by David De Gea of Manchester United during the Barclays Premier League match between Manchester United and Everton at Old Trafford on October 5, 2014 in Manc
Michael Regan/Getty Images

His progress has been so swift that on Sunday he was able to play behind an inexperienced, under-fire back four and save the day. 

There was a time when United fans looked at other goalkeepers in the Premier League with envy. Not any more. Still only 23, De Gea could be their No. 1 for another decade.

Most of United's goalkeepers go through rough spells. Even the best, like Schmeichel or Van der Sar. Some never emerge, like Bosnich or Taibi.

De Gea has. And something that, not so long ago, looked like becoming a costly mistake is turning into a risk that has been well worth taking.

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