When a certain 20-year-old from the capital of Spain was signed by Manchester United in the summer of 2011, the aim was clear. It was done to make sure that he goes onto to replace the club’s legendary goalkeeper Edwin van der Sar, who had retired at the end of the previous season.
This 20-year-old David De Gea was made the first choice as soon as he came in. But it turned out to be a horror show for him. Every game brought out new errors and new weaknesses in this skinny scrawny boy, who had been signed from Atletico Madrid. People questioned if he’s good enough to play in England.
Be it against Manchester City on his debut, against Blackburn Rovers later on or against any other team, De Gea struggled. It seemed amateurish and naive on United’s and Sir Alex Ferguson’s part to have signed a very young player who had no experience of playing in England to replace a club’s goalkeeping legend. The media showed no mercy. De Gea was criticised to a point where his signing was deemed to be a mistake. Some wanted him to be sold and sent back to Spain.
One decision though, changed his career. Young De Gea was learning English to settle in at Manchester, but Sir Alex stopped his English lessons to make sure that he could not understand what the media talked about him. As the season ended, many thought United would sign someone else.
But the Red Devils stuck to the Spaniard, who responded with might. A career defining save came against Chelsea at their territory. After United had gone 2 up within 20 minutes, they had conceded one goal. And Chelsea were piling on the pressure. An equaliser seemed imminent. The heat was on. De Gea’s would-be Spain and United teammate Juan Mata lined up a free kick from about 22 yards out. The little magician loved to place it in. This seemed like another one of those. It went over and wall and was heading for the top corner. Out of nowhere, De Gea leaped out and put a hand to it. The United fans stared is disbelief. Chelsea fans gazed in awe. They had witnessed a special save. From a man who was abused and criticised so much for his errors, this astounding save was impossible. Then on, there was no looking back.
De Gea earned a reputation for winning games for United the way goalscorers do, pulling out fascinating saves in big and important games. Be it that inhuman double save against Olympiacos at Old Trafford under David Moyes or that miraculous show against Everton under Louis van Gaal, or a performance against Liverpool in which he was the man of the match despite United having won 3-0.
In the summer of 2018, De Gea was handed United’s Sir Matt Busby Player of the Season award for a record fourth time. And that achievement for a goalkeeper, not a goalscorer, is just about out of this world.
Coming to the more recent ones, his save late in the game to deny Man City’s Sergio Aguero a late equaliser last season in the 3-2 win left many gasping. Famed commentator Peter Drury was covering that game and he asked his co-commentator on live television: “How does he do that?”. The co-commentator Jon Champion said: “Because he’s the best in the world.”