Travel back in time to 31 December 2011. Steve Kean’s Blackburn Rovers pull off a shock result at Old Trafford by beating Manchester United 3-2.
It was a game remembered for a fluffed De Gea clearance that left Grant Hanley free to head home the eventual winner. It was a season of ups and downs for the Spaniard after seeing horrible moments like the 6-1 thrashing at Old Trafford and getting knocked out the Champions League at the group stage.
The media, even to this point, had always been staunchly critical of his performances. ‘Not good enough’ certain newspapers have claimed, even after his moments of brilliance but even his harshest of critics were full of praise for the Spaniard after the thrilling 3-3 draw against Chelsea last season. It was De Gea’s last minute finger tip save from Mata that earned United a point in a dramatic tie at Stamford Bridge.
After losing the title on goal difference to Manchester City and struggling to settle in the physical English game, this season has really outlined De Gea’s outstanding ability to be one of the best goalkeepers in the world. Right from the first Premier League game, we saw a brilliant performance from the 22- year-old at Goodison Park against Everton. Had it not been for him, the game could have ended up being a lot more embarrassing.
In more recent times, De Gea showed why Sir Alex persisted on keeping him after successfully establishing his place as United’s number one goalkeeper. Sir Alex, and the United fans, persisted on holding on to him – now it is easy to see why.
Then came arguably De Gea’s best moment in a United shirt. The date was 13 February 2013. The location – Santiago Bernabau. United were under heavy attack from the likes of Ozil, Ronaldo and Di Mario – truly world class talent. As Phil McNulty from the BBC wrote in his post-match report:
“Manchester United were indebted to an outstanding performance from goalkeeper David de Gea as they came away from the Bernabeu with a highly satisfactory Champions League draw against Real Madrid.”
De Gea had the safest hands (and feet) in the stadium that night. Had it not been for him in between the posts, the game could have ended up being a rugby score. De Gea pulled out countless saves to repel a continuous Real Madrid attack to keep the score tied.
And Sir Alex has heaped praise on the Spaniard, not for the first time, for turning his misfortune to magnificence in such a short space of time in the early stages of his United career.
“David has developed and matured as the season has gone on,” said Ferguson.
“We’ve seen a very progressive and developing young goalkeeper and next season he’ll be even better.”
Ferguson wasn’t the only one to lavish praise on De Gea with Rio Ferdinand heavily backing his goalkeeper too.
“When you are a ‘keeper, experience comes with games and becoming used to certain situations,” he said.
“He hasn’t been here long. He is young, he had to become accustomed to his new surroundings and he wasn’t given time.
“When you play for Manchester United you are under incredible scrutiny. That is just the way it is. You have to get used to it. You need a thick skin to be a Manchester United player.
“Because if you cannot take a battering at times you will fall by the wayside and someone else will fill your shoes. He has a huge price tag on his head that carries a lot of weight. But he is resilient, even if he still has a lot to prove because this season is not over yet.”
At the time of writing, times are smooth for De Gea. The media have cooled their attention over United getting rid of him. Everyone, since the Real Madrid games, have really seen the brilliance of De Gea and admired the saves he can pull off that only a rare breed of goalkeepers today can do.
He has kept six straight clean sheets in the Premier League and has the longest period without conceding a goal since Edwin van der Sar’s 1311 minute record from 2008 and was nominated for March player of the month – as well as storming his way to a league title with Manchester United. A stark contrast from the meek and often reckless goalkeeper who arrived less than two years ago.
He has taken some time to adjust, as can be expected for foreign players but De Gea has proven and fully established himself as United’s number one goalkeeper and he is now happy at Old Trafford. And with Spain calling, maybe it won’t be long before he establishes himself in the Spanish national team too.
The sky is the limit for De Gea.