When Manchester United manager Erik ten Hag decided to replace first-choice goalkeeper David de Gea with the younger Andre Onana, it appeared as if this controversial decision came due to the Dutch coach’s desire for a more modern keeper who fits in with his style of play.
Throughout last season, De Gea, who had proven to be Man United’s most reliable defensive player time and again during his decade with the club, showed signs of decline, from handling errors to lack of awareness as was the case in his team’s loss in the FA Cup Final against Manchester City.
Onana, on the other hand, had been a crucial player for Inter Milan, guiding his team to Coppa Italia victory with a 90% save success while also helping his team reach the Champions League final.
Once the summer transfer window opened, Ten Hag’s ambition became abundantly clear – to replace the aging De Gea with a keeper who knows how to play with the ball at his feet and support his outfield teammates.
But while the 27 year old appeared to be eclipsing the performances of the United veteran at the time of his signing, some alarming errors from Onana this season have raised concerns about whether Ten Hag made the right call when he forked out £47 million for the player and decided to part ways with De Gea.
In United’s opening Champions League group game against Bayern Munich, Onana failed to react to Leroy Sane’s long-range shot, thereby handing the lead to the Bundesliga side.
“Today is one of my worst games,” Onana admitted after the 4-3 loss, even admitting that “The team was good, we didn’t win this game because of me.”
In the Premier League, Onana’s performances have also been lacklustre, with the Cameroonian conceding 18 goals in 10 matches so far this season.
While many of United’s defensive woes must be accredited to several defenders’ performances and not just Onana himself, the marquee signing suffered a particularly bad night on Wednesday when United embarrassingly lost 3-2 at home to Galatasaray in the Champions League.
In fact, so troubling was Onana’s performance that Ten Hag admitted that he would personally speak with the goalkeeper in an effort to get him on the right track.
Yesterday, The Sun conducted a direct comparison between the performances of De Gea in his last three seasons with United and Onana during the current campaign.
The article showed that De Gea’s save percentage of 69.7% overshadowed Onana’s 64.7%, while the Spaniards errors leading to goals per 90 minutes including goals was 0.09, less than half of Onana’s 0.20.
Sports Brief reported that when it came to shots that did not find the back of the net, De Gea made 0.03 errors leading to a shot per match, while Onana made 0.2.
Still, saving ability was not the only reason why United signed Onana.
While Onana’s strong passing game and creativity with the ball at his feet have been widely recognised, the numbers show that his performance in these areas has not significantly exceeded that of De Gea.
André Onana 🆚 David De Gea
André Onana comes out on top in all categories. ✅ pic.twitter.com/1WEXeQnkBJ
— Football Daily (@footballdaily) October 4, 2023
While Onana’s 76% passing accuracy may outpace De Gea’s 69% accuracy as shown in the above X post, it’s important to note that this is not a wide margin.
His superior performances with his feet also do not rule out the importance of his primary function, namely, making saves and keeping clean sheets as one should do at an elite club like United.
Although it is still far too early in the season to determine whether or not Onana’s transfer was a mistake, the goalkeeper will need to improve his game quickly in order to win favour with United fans, silence his critics, and ultimately show his ability to be the world class keeper that he proved himself to be prior to his move to Old Trafford.