In Safe Hands: It's Too Early to Judge David De Gea

Luke TaylorCorrespondent IIAugust 15, 2011

It's been a rough start to De Gea's United Career, but fans shouldn't worry yet.
It's been a rough start to De Gea's United Career, but fans shouldn't worry yet.Mike Hewitt/Getty Images

Although his first two outings in a Manchester United shirt have not exactly filled fans with confidence, any criticism of David De Gea appears to be very premature.

The 20-year-old shot stopper was at fault for West Brom’s goal this Sunday, and was also to blame for at least one of two goals in the Community Shield last week too, but the £17 million signing’s shaky start should not worry fans yet; De Gea is widely viewed as the best keeper under the age of 21 in the world, and this is for a reason.

While his mistakes have been well-documented, they have often overshadowed the good moments he has enjoyed in a United shirt, including a terrific one-handed save from a powerful Paul Scharner drive at the Hawthorns this weekend.

While some pundits and critics have already hit the panic button, and Piers Morgan continues to gloat on Twitter, there is not yet reason to worry.

The big-money nature of the deal, and high expectations placed on the young Spaniard’s shoulders are sure to draw interest from the press, who will happily jump on any mistake in search of a story, while Piers Morgan’s view should be of little consequence or interest to anyone; not to mention the irony of an Arsenal fan mocking an opponent’s goalkeeping issues.

Having invested so heavily in such a young goalkeeper, De Gea is seen as the long-term successor to Edwin van der Sar. At the age of 20, he should realistically enjoy another 15 to 20 years between the sticks.

His immediate introduction to English football will help to acclimatise him to the nature of the game, and while it may lead to some mistakes early in his career, it will help De Gea settle into English football quickly.

The style of English football is much more physical than that in the Spanish league, as the new signing quickly found out this weekend.

On Sunday, De Gea was dumped unceremoniously to the floor twice in a matter of minutes as United defended consecutive set-pieces.

First, the attacker backed into De Gea, taking his legs from under him; it should have been a free-kick, and in Spain he almost certainly would have had one; and then Shane Long delivered an arm to his face while jumping for the ball, this time drawing a foul.

The keeper was put under a lot of pressure on high balls into the box, and if that happens at West Brom, you can only imagine what he’s going to have to deal with at Stoke.

However, De Gea is young for a keeper, and possesses a slim frame for a goalkeeper.

It’s highly likely that he spends extended periods of time in the gym over the next few months to bulk up a little, and once he is stronger, he will be much better equipped to deal with this sort of pressure from opposition set-pieces.

When he has more experience of the English game, he will feel much more comfortable in these scenarios, and will be mentally prepared to deal with them; right now, it must feel like some sort of baptism of fire.

Despite some issues with crosses into the box, the two major errors by De Gea this season were made shot-stopping; first when he dived late when dealing with a speculative long-range effort from Edin Dzeko against City, and then when he dived over Shane Long’s effort this weekend.

However, one possible explanation is these two mistakes were the result of a lack of practice.

De Gea spent the beginning of his summer at the Under 21s European Championships, meaning his pre-season at United started a later than the rest of the squad, and he has had less practice that the rest of the squad before this season began.

As we all know, players are rusty in pre-season, and are much more likely to make mistakes; in goal, any mistake you make is magnified due to your position (especially when you are the new keeper for the champions), and it could simply be the case that De Gea is still working off that rust.

Alternatively, the mistakes could be a result of poor concentration.

At his former club, Atletico Madrid, there is no doubt De Gea saw more action that he will behind United’s backline.

He was hardly tested against City, with the exception of five first-half minutes, and a couple of occasions in the second half, and the same goes for this weekend.

It is possible that De Gea simply has to get used to playing the role as a spectator for large parts of the game, but he must be more reliable when called upon, and the mistakes could be a result of his lack of concentration.

The point is, that there could be a very innocent explanation behind his errors; it isn’t that he is a bad goalkeeper.

One other issues for De Gea will be much less of an concern in six months time; the language barrier.

De Gea does not speak English, which makes it difficult for him to bark out instructions to his defence.

He is currently learning the language though, and should soon be fully capable of organising the defence exactly as he wants it; something that every keeper wants but he may not currently have. Once he can do this, he should feel more comfortable in his position.

Despite the problems, there is one fact that the critics seem happy to overlook when referring to De Gea: he was the keeper chosen by United to replace van der Sar; he was not a fall-back option.

Sir Alex Ferguson saw something in the keeper that meant he was happy to overlook the Dutch international Martin Stekelenberg, German starter Manuel Neuer and even Liverpool’s keeper Pepe Reina; all players who Ferguson was credited with an interest in.

De Gea was his preferred choice, and he is a keeper who has excelled in Madrid over the last two seasons too.

He was in goal for the team which won the Europa League in 2010, and he was also started when Spain won the Under 21s European Championships this summer; a competition where he was named in the Team of the Tournament.

The Spanish national team’s management has very high hopes for De Gea too, and expects him to be the long-term successor to Iker Casillas.

There are huge expectations at both club and country, and but most expect him to realise his potential and meet those expectations.

Pundits are more than happy to base their opinions on the first two games of De Gea’s career in Manchester, but in reality, most fans respect the convictions of Sir Alex Ferguson, his most trusted scouts, and those in the Spanish national team’s camp, much more.

There is no doubt it’s not been the smoothest start for David De Gea as the new number one, but it would be a real surprise if the Spaniard does not become the star most in Manchester, and Spain, expect him to become.

A little bit of patience wouldn’t go amiss though.


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