Neville, along with many others, was openly critical of the Spaniard, who endured a rocky start to life at Old Trafford, after he arrived at the club in 2011.
Since then, however, De Gea has quickly morphed into one of the world’s finest keepers, claiming three successive Player of the Season awards in the past three seasons.
Neville, reflecting on his more recent criticism of Liverpool keeper Loris Karius, heaped praise on De Gea for the way he responded to widespread scrutiny.
“Bullying young players? That’s absolutely ridiculous,” Neville said.
“I was critical of David De Gea three or four years ago. He has gone on to prove me wrong by silence and performances. He has grown out of it. It was nothing personal against Loris Karius. It was an observation.”
Perhaps one of the clearest signs of Man United moving in the right direction under Jose Mourinho is that, unlike under David Moyes and Louis van Gaal, De Gea has felt like something of a bystander this season. A stark contrast from recent years, where the 26-year-old would always seem to emerge as the side’s most important player.
Relying so heavily on your last line of defence is symptomatic of a side sapped of attacking impetus and defensive solidity, and United fans will be pleased to see someone else claim the Player of the Year award come May.
That said, De Gea – despite his relative anonymity this season – has proven characteristically reliable when called upon under Mourinho. His sensational display at Anfield springs to mind, alongside often ignored but ultimately crucial stops against the likes of Crystal Palace and West Ham United in recent weeks.
United fans will hope to continue seeing this this version of De Gea – reliable, capable of keeping the opposition at bay, but ultimately secondary to the likes of Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Paul Pogba in terms of importance – in the coming months.