Cristiano Ronaldo’s exit from Manchester United in 2009 came as a massive blow to fans but the prospect of losing David de Gea to Real Madrid this summer will hurt more.
During his time at the club, Ronaldo won everything he could and his departure was on the cards for a while after he publicly made comments revealing his desire to move.
“I agree with the statements of the president, he is right,” Ronaldo said in July 2008 (one year before he joined Madrid) when asked about Sepp Blatter’s suggestion that he was a ‘modern day slave’ as United wouldn’t let him join Madrid.
“You know what I said, what I want and what I would like. Let’s see. I agree completely with the president of Fifa. Now I have to wait and see, but I do not know where I will begin the season.”
Ronaldo exerted his own pressure on United to sell him. He didn’t want to be at the club any more and did his best to force a move to Madrid.
The Portugal international eventually left United in acrimonious circumstances after Sir Alex Ferguson made him wait an extra year.
On the opposite end of the spectrum is De Gea.
Here we have a player who is stuck in an emotional tug of war. He wants to stay at Man United; he loves the fans, loves the club and after a brilliant two seasons of progression would now be ready to help United challenge for trophies once again after a short lull.
Yet, everything outside of football is in his home town Madrid. His girlfriend Edurne, family, life long friends and a warm climate will all be waiting for him if he stepped off the plane in Madrid.
However, despite the obvious attractions which go far deeper than thoughts of glory, trophies and fame, De Gea hasn’t publicly forced United to play their hand.
At no point this season has De Gea come out to deny or confirm the rumours, he has never said anything against the club and, most importantly, he hasn’t let his performances be affected by the decision he had to make this summer about his future.
Instead, he has quietly and privately chosen not to accept a new contract even though he would earn more money than at Madrid if he joined. For De Gea, it really isn’t about the money and it never has been. For that alone he is a rare character in modern football.
Fans love him and he loves the fans. There is a special bond between them that Madrid’s supporters are unlikely to replicate given the toxic nature of a baying Santiago Bernabeu crowd when things aren’t going their way, a fact which makes it all the more painful to entertain the thought of him playing there instead of at Old Trafford.
If that bond with United fans didn’t exist, there is every chance De Gea would already be mentally unpacking his bags in Madrid, but he isn’t. He is at a genuine crossroads. There is an acceptance among United fans that his heart will prevail but there will be nothing but warm feelings towards De Gea for what he has done at United.
That being said, there will be a big void left behind.
When Ronaldo left, he had won everything there was to win at United but if De Gea leaves the club this summer, it will be after the most tumultuous two year period of the club’s recent history and potentially right before the revival which could happen next under Van Gaal. Fans are desperate for De Gea to be a part of that journey.
United have a long history of bringing talented youngsters to the club and giving them the platform to grow into superstars but this time, it looks like United will have to watch from afar as 24-year-old old De Gea goes on to become the world’s best goalkeeper, thanks in no small part to the four years in which he was transformed into the player he is today.
De Gea is yet to make his mind up about whether he will join Madrid but there is an acceptance that it is inevitable. Keeping him for one more year when United are back in the Champions League would have been wonderful but at this stage, it would be more of a surprise than anything to see him play in a United shirt again.