Andre Onana’s start to life as a Red Devil has been eventful to say the least. The Cameroonian keeper has played the role of villian and hero numerous times already this season and most haven’t even got the Christmas decorations out yet.
The summer transfer window saw the sudden departure of legendary goalkeeper David De Gea when a new contract was seemingly agreed then apparently snatched away from under his nose before the start of July.
The Spaniard was a popular figure amongst fans although many had lost patience with him after a few high-profile major errors, including Manchester City’s winning goal in the FA Cup final in June.
Much excitement was generated when rumours began to swirl around the Spaniard’s possible successor as United’s number one. When the news emerged that manager Erik ten Hag had settled on his former keeper at Ajax, Andre Onana, that positive feeling went into overdrive.
De Gea was generally always accepted as an elite shot-stopper, or at least for most of his career at the club. However, his ball playing skills, so often sought after in the modern game, were seen as sorely lacking.
This is where Onana was supposed to step in and save the day as one of the game’s best ball-playing keepers. Portugal manager, Roberto Martinez, mused that the Cameroonian was “less a sweeper-keeper than a holding midfielder at times” during Inter Milan’s run to the Champions League final in 2023.
The keeper’s evident inner confidence and apparent dig at Erling Haaland already quickly endeared him to Man United fans. When asked if he was scared of facing the Norwegian in the Champions Legaue final, Onana exclaimed that no man should be afraid of another man and the video quickly went viral on social media.
So United had found their confident, modern, ball-playing keeper. Unfortunately, life does not always go to plan. It is not particularly clear to many Red Devils supporters if the club play out from the back better than they did when De Gea kept guard of the goal. Onana is clearly more comfortable on the ball and has played a few beautiful passes already, like the accurate long range missile to Alejandro Garnacho against Spurs. It is not his fault his teammates have been far from prolific in front of goal. Although, it is fair to say that Onana’s comfort on the ball has not translated to the team creating or scoring more goals.
This hasn’t really been the African keeper’s primary issue though. He has admitted that he has been much poorer than expected. The goalkeeper has already made a string of poor decisions and errors resulting in goals, most famously against Bayern Munich in the team’s opening Champions League group game defeat. Credit where credit’s due, the Cameroonian came out and explained to the press that the loss was on him and confessed that he needed to do better.
Onana’s league debut was hardly less controversial. He introduced himself to the Premier League by taking out Wolves striker, Sasa Kalajdzic, which many deemed should have been a penalty. The keeper went on to make crucial mistakes resulting in goals versus Nottingham Forest, Galatasaray and Brentford. This led to a barrage of criticism and many calling him a “downgrade” on De Gea. Naturally, the papers have been filled with stories about how the Red Devils are already out to replace the Cameroon international.
This is improbable though as Erik ten Hag is unlikely to bin off his former keeper so prematurely. Onana had successful trophy-laden stints at both Ajax and Inter Milan. The shotstopper was also recently ranked 23rd in the Ballon d’Or.
As mentioned before, Onana has also had his hero moment. The last-gasp penality save in the Champions League against Copenhagen proved to be match winning and could be pivotal in United’s qualification hopes. It was a heart-warming moment when the keeper was mobbed by his teammates in the backdrop of a thunderously loud Old Trafford. Many felt this was his arrival as a United player. The African born keeper has also kept three clean sheets in the league and made a string of good saves against Manchester City, Sheffield United and most recently at the weekend in a crucial win against Fulham.
Andre Onana has not had the start he would have wanted. He is brave and self-aware enough to admit it. Life as Manchester United’s goalkeeper is the hardest job in the sport according to ex-player turned Sky Sports pundit, Gary Neville. However, he clearly has the talent and an intriguing enough skill set to persevere with him and make the number one shirt is own.