Home » Groundhog Day spells trouble for David de Gea and Manchester United

Groundhog Day spells trouble for David de Gea and Manchester United

by Red Billy

Life with David de Gea has always been full of contradictions. He remains, alongside Cristiano Ronaldo, the player who has won the Sir Matt Busby Player of the Year award the most times (four).

On Sunday, he overtook the legendary Alex Stepney to become the goalkeeper with the most appearances in the history of the club (540).

And at the end of the season, he is favourite to win the Premier League Golden Glove, awarded to the goalkeeper who kept the most clean sheets in a season. He currently leads with 15.

He is the world’s best paid goalkeeper and reportedly has already been offered a deal by United that would keep him in the world’s top five best paid, despite turning 33 later this year.

But there has always been an underbelly.

Fill in the blanks:

“Manchester United goalkeeper, David de Gea, was ‘inconsolable’ after his howler saw xxx progress to the semi-finals of the xxx League, apologising to his teammates.”

Sevilla, Europa? In fact it was Barcelona, Champions. It was April 2019 and De Gea had allowed a scuffed shot from Lionel Messi to dribble into the net.

It was also a month that saw United fall apart in the Premier League and let a comfortable cushion in fourth place slip. De Gea made mistakes against Everton, Man City, Chelsea and Huddersfield Town in that run-in, costing his team 11 points out of the final 15. He was not the only culprit in that episode of football hari-kari, but he was the main one.

2018/19 position after 29 games. Source: premierleague.com

2018/19 final league table. Source: premierleague.com

There is still a myth, perpetuated by the media and pundits, that De Gea is still one of the world’s best shot stoppers and that his distribution is the only weakness in his game. Yet he has made the joint most mistakes leading to a goal (four) in the Premier League this season, and his errors are coming thick and fast again, just as they did in 2018/19.

This season’s Premier League table after 29 games. Source: premierleague.com

If United finish this season like they did that one, it will be a disaster.

There have been many patches of bad form from De Gea over the years, but another worrying parallel between now and the 2019 run-in was that he was then as he is now, in the middle of contract negotiations.

I wrote back then: “Remember Van Gaal dropping David de Gea at the start of the 2015-16 season, because he believed his focus was on a potential move to Real Madrid? Many people slated Van Gaal for that decision, but with contract renewal talks again an issue now and coinciding with four mistakes in the last three games, you have to wonder, in retrospect, whether he was right.”

Fast forward to June of the same year, and despite the abysmal performances that cost United a place in the Champions League semi-final and a place in the following year’s competition, the Spaniard was awarded that lucrative £375,000 a week, five-year contract.

As I said at the time, he was given a “50% pay increase that takes him from being the world’s highest-paid keeper to being by far the world’s highest-paid keeper”. It was brain-dead of United at the time, but loyalty for De Gea’s contributions in the glory years clouded the club’s judgement and, well, the genius Ed Woodward was in charge.

And if you’re wondering if that faith was rewarded by a newly focused, confident De Gea, the answer is that it was not, and he was making howlers again at the start of 2019/20, including one against Crystal Palace’s Jordan Ayew that is etched into the memory of many a despondent United fan. Another against Watford’s Ismaila Sarr sticks in the memory for all the wrong reasons.

At the national level, Spain have long since disposed of De Gea’s services because they realised he was prone to costly errors, including ones in the 2018 World Cup. His famous howler in failing to stop a Cristiano Ronaldo shot in that competition has gone down in folklore, he failed to keep a clean sheet in the competition and pre-tournament third favourites Spain were knocked out in the round of 16 by Russia after he failed to save a penalty in the shootout – or the one in real time.

Which brings us to a certain Europa League final penalty shootout, when he failed to save any of 11 penalties and then missed his own.

After De Gea’s error on Sunday, Marcus Rashford was snapped looking disdainfully at Erik ten Hag. It’s easy to read his expression as “how many more times, boss?”, which of course, might not be what he was thinking at all. But, let’s face it, it’s what we’re all thinking. It’s what Freud called “projection”.

It’s not pleasant writing articles like this. It’s not a hatchet job and it’s not a witch hunt. I am grateful for the good times. De Gea is not my scapegoat for a situation that has been brought about by lack of transfer funds, poor finishing, injuries and suspensions and a gruelling schedule, among other things.

But I want my club to be successful and I cannot see it being so as long as its last line of defence is so unreliable. Enough is enough where De Gea is concerned. We have been here way too many times.

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