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The scene is the Santiago Bernabeu stadium. It is the 5th minute, and the blushes of all in connection with Manchester United are saved by a man who is the subject of daily witch hunts by his adopted country’s media. David De Gea continued to make world-class saves throughout the night, and but for Ronaldo’s superfluous header would have been awarded man of the match, in the city where he first made his name.
Added significance comes from the fact that, as a former Atletico Madrid ‘keeper and fan, he was establishing himself further in the world game, in the cauldron and at the expense of the enemy.
This is ‘like water of a ducks back’ to quote Manchester United goalkeeping coach Eric Steele. Much like United’s other formative Eric’s – Harrison and Cantona– Steele has been instrumental in the young Spaniard’s development and adjustment in England.
So much so, in fact, that Steele was quick and proud to point out that De Gea’s language lessons had come in such a way that young David was quite able and ready to answer some of the questions aimed at him by the English journalists.
De Gea, it transpired, only answered two questions in English, but thankfully managed to deliver a goalkeeping Q & A of his own, displaying agility and talent beyond his 22 years, delivering a tour de force against Champions League opponents Real Madrid that leaves the reports of the arrival of a replacement in the summer of 2013 – particularly Stoke City’s Asmir Begovic and Victor Valdes of Barcelona – with little foundation.
Furthermore, he displayed the type of performance that should keep the underperforming Anders Lindegaard out of the side for a few weeks at least. After the Dane’s nightmare performances at Reading and Norwich this season, manager Sir Alex Ferguson will be glad to know that the boy he bought to replace the legendary Edwin Van der Sar is finally beginning to become a man, and show doubting journalists and opposition fans what United’s £19million outlay has afforded them.
Certainly, his setbacks since moving to England have seen him pilloried whilst other, more experienced ‘keepers are faltering in a similar fashion. Prime examples of this are Pepe Reina and Wojciech Szczesny, who have made mistakes in a similar fashion to United’s current custodian – which have arguably been more costly to Liverpool and Arsenal’s seasons than De Gea’s at Manchester United this term – and yet they remain untouched by blame, despite each costing their club precious silverware in recent weeks.
United’s De Gea, in contrast, is pushing for team of the year place in England and, should a Champions League run of meaning and merit present itself, Europe. His displays have seen him courted by both Real Madrid and Barcelona, who are both having goalkeeping troubles at present. Iker Casillas, the man whom De Gea could replace for club and country, is out of favour despite injury with Jose Mourinho, and Victor Valdes is considered surplus to requirements by Barcelona.
Yet, with the jury for the young Spaniard still firmly out on the matter in England, one feels that humble pie in this case is best served with trophies. His heroics have already afforded the 19-times English champions a 12-point lead in the Barclays Premier league, showing that he is starting to fulfill the potential that was identified by Atletico Madrid in promoting him ahead of former wunderkind Sergio Asenjo to first team action.
De Gea’s stats for United since the beginning of the season don’t make for fantastic reading: Just 5 clean sheets in 18 games, making 68 saves in the process. Yet, this is made impressive by the fact that Nemanja Vidic has been recovering from an injury – Vidic being the chief diverter of aerial threats in United’s back line. This has led to a significant upturn in shots and crosses faced, and hence goals conceded, should give the young goalkeeper’s doubters food for thought, instead of spitting their meals to lambast him with only a half- baked argument.
Finally, this could be the season that United’s hunt their next great keeper in the mould of Schmeichel and Van der Sar, comes to an end. United seem to possess a young player of considerable ability and admirable temperament who could well be a key figure in United’s long term future, both domestically and in European competition. Now, all United need is for this young man of so much promise to disarm those of little faith with the medals and trophies befitting a player of the Spaniard’s ilk.
As the saying goes: ‘Form is temporary, class is permanent.’
Written by Hamish Dwyer
Follow Hamish on Twitter @RedHammyD
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