To an outsider the passion with which Manchester United fans oppose the sale of David De Gea may be seen as a little strange. Trading a goalkeeper, no matter how good he is, and forty million pounds for Gareth Bale or Cristiano Ronaldo would be seen as a no brainer in many eyes. A decent goalkeeper can be replaced but the impact a Bale or Ronaldo would have on a Premier League side more or less guarantees you the Premier League title.
The thing is, United fans know their football. They’ve monitored the development of De Gea, from the young keeper who was unfairly ridiculed by the media due to an understandable issue with crosses – anti football teams like Bolton and Stoke are extinct on the continent – to the domineering sweeper keeper of today. Yes goalkeepers can be replaced. But when you’re dealing with the best in the world the task isn’t so easy.
De Gea’s been so good, he wrapped up the Manchester United player of the season award before Christmas. It’s embarrassing for a club built on goals and entertaining football to be so reliant on their goalkeeper but the fact remains, without De Gea this season United’s top four aspirations would be all but over. United fans are fully aware of the true value of David. Without him we’d be screwed this season.
And is it so easy to replace a goalkeeper? Like any position there are differing standards of player and with the way De Gea has performed this season unless United are planning on signing Manuel Neuer anyone they bring in will be a definite step down. Victor Valdes is already on United’s books and there’s no doubting his quality. He also has the added advantage of being an excellent sweeper keeper like De Gea and Neuer, which is so important to the way United play under Van Gaal. But is Valdes in the same category as De Gea? Barcelona’s success certainly wasn’t built on a solid defence so the jury is out on just how effective Valdes would be in the physical and fast paced Premier League. One thing seems certain, if De Gea does leave it will be Valdes who steps in to the void.
From a business point of view I can see the money men at Manchester United licking the lips at the prospect of a De Gea sale. Any deal with Madrid is highly likely to bring in Ronaldo or Bale for approximately 40 million pounds. The footballing advantage one of those two world stars would bring on the pitch is one thing but the marketing value is on a different planet to what De Gea offers. Goalkeepers don’t sell anywhere near the shirts and merchandise a Bale or Ronaldo does. And with Valdes already signed up on a free contract the package as a business decision looks sound.
Which is why we shouldn’t put De Gea’s Manchester United future squarely on his shoulders. He may well be pining for a move back to Spain, he may be waiting to see if United secure Champion’s League football before signing a new contract? Or, the club could be the one driving the deal. In which case you can’t blame De Gea for assessing his options. But if the club are the catalyst to any deal with Madrid they’d do well to have a look back through our archives to 1999 and the departure of a certain Mr Schmeichel.
When Peter Schmeichel left United in 1999 he was the best keeper in the world and commander of the United backline. Like De Gea he quite literally saved United in countless matches and provided a solid base for the rest of the team to express themselves. When he left it took United six years to sign a suitable replacement in Van Der Sar. If anyone within Old Trafford thinks selling De Gea is a good deal they’d do well to research this warning from the past. Changing goalkeepers means at least one season of transition whilst the new man builds an understanding with his colleagues. Can Manchester United afford another year of transition? And that’s assuming the replacement is the right man. Get it wrong and it could be another six years before they find the right one.
And why should Manchester United be looking to do sound business deals with Real Madrid anyway? With the recent sponsorship and TV deals United will be arguably the richest club in world football. We shouldn’t be selling the best goalkeeper in the world to bring in another world star like Ronaldo, we should be keeping De Gea and buying the world star. Gone are the days where we need to bow down to Madrid’s wealth. It’s time to throw a few financial punches of our own. And what a strike it would be to keep De Gea AND bring back Ronaldo. United fans may think that’s unlikely but the money is there for United to make such a statement.
So will De Gea go? Despite all of the above, the answer is we don’t know? For every reason for him to stay there’s a valid reason why he may want to leave. Can De Gea establish himself as Spain’s number one whilst playing in England? If he’s been told he needs to be playing in Spain to accomplish that honour then who can blame him wanting a move back? On the other hand, something that doesn’t get much airtime is why would he want to go to Real Madrid? He spent ten years at his boyhood club Atletico and with such a fierce rivalry with Real Madrid a move there might not be very appealing? If Barcelona were in the race then perhaps we should be more concerned but with their transfer ban they’re out too.
There’s certainly reasons to be optimistic. As long as it’s not the club driving the deal.