As Manchester United prepare for a Wembley showdown against Crystal Palace in the FA Cup final in three weeks time, much of their progress through the tournament has been built on the outstanding achievements of David De Gea.
Since arriving at Old Trafford in the summer of 2012 as a replacement for the retired Edwin van der Sar, de Gea has built his case as one of the finest goalkeepers in the world – matched only by Manuel Neuer and Joe Hart – with yet another top class season for the Reds that has seen him land on the PFA Team of the Year, and in all probability – Manchester United’s player of the season yet again.
This award in itself speaks volumes about two key factors of United’s team; just how good de Gea is, and just how much of an underachievement United’s outfield players have been.
First and foremost, we should take nothing away from de Gea. Where once he was silent, skinny, and susceptible to the brutality of English football, he has transformed into a commander of the box and a presence so intimidating, Romelu Lukaku couldn’t convert from 12 yards against him. In the wake of Sir Alex Ferguson’s retirement and the Reds dropping away from the elite contention in which they regularly found themselves, he grew to be a player they relied upon to keep them in matches, something he did time after time.
Should he win the award at the showpiece event, de Gea would win the award for a third consecutive season, having also become the first goalkeeper to win since its inception in 1988. In doing so, he is likely to revive the attention of Real Madrid in the summer off-season. Where Real’s calamity with paperwork prevented them from signing de Gea last time, no such faux pas is likely to occur in their pursuit, and United may find themselves searching for a new goalkeeper in a matter of months.
What else is to be pointed out is how a goalkeeper wins a Player of the Year award three times in a row, amidst his colleagues failure to get near him. In terms of this season’s performances, only Anthony Martial can truly stake a claim as being a truly standout performer. The excuses have run out. Ferguson retired three years ago; they are no longer a team in transition. In terms of comparison to United sides of old – they are mediocre, but with terrific potential.
Van Gaal – should he remain in the job for the summer – needs to have a serious think about the content of his current squad. The likes of Jesse Lingard, Timothy Fosu-Mensah, and Marcus Rashford represent a crop of hugely promising youngsters that van Gaal has successfully bled through. But others, namely Michael Carrick, Memphis Depay, and Juan Mata, will need examining before van Gaal makes his transfer moves.
He has finally started letting the players loose to play free flowing attractive football – now he needs the correct men to execute it. His transfer signings have been exuberant in monetary terms, but their execution on the pitch is leaving far too much to be desired. De Gea remains a stalwart who has allowed United to get away with murder at times, saving them far often then is necessary, with the defence needing to take some of the flak for the misgivings at the back.
If he hasn’t realised already, de Gea will find out he is capable of greater achievements worldwide. As things stand, Real Madrid can offer him that a lot more than United, whilst also providing a temptation of a return to his home city. Cheap he will not be, but that has never been a problem for Los Blancos. Winning the FA Cup might be a step in the right direction, but it may be too little too late to keep him at Old Trafford.