Being stuck between a rock and a hard place is one thing, having Manchester United and Real Madrid be the two entities of that analogy, is something truly unique. While all signs might point to an eventual return to Madrid, Manchester United are no longer willing to bow down to their Spanish counterparts, believing that David de Gea will have to pried from more than Ed Woodward’s cold, dead hands.
In an era where United are spending astronomical sums of money on tried and tested talent, the development of David De Gea has been a quiet source of pride for the Red Devils. His arrival as a lanky 19 year old, short on confidence, has only served to accentuate how far he has come in a short period of time. His continued and consistent development in the midst of changing managers and keeping staff, has displayed exactly the professionalism and dedication that is sorely lacking in the younger prodigious talents of today’s day and age. However, United should’ve known, and possibly far back, that the gold-toothed vultures of Real Madrid would come ominously circling, hoping to bring their native back home.
It is unsurprising that De Gea has said close to nothing, while journalists and digital media have put words into his mouth, exacerbating his every mundane action, and spinning it into some clich d inevitability. De Gea’s silence and composure have been appreciated by the United faithful in many quarters, especially after the way the recently departed Angel Di Maria carried himself throughout the summer. De Gea’s inability to express his position however, has left all camps perplexed. United and not Real Madrid come off as the unfortunate losers of this, for little fault of their own.
The entry of Louis van Gaal was supposed to correct many of the failings endured under the previous regime. He convinced the board to buy big, he tried to implement a philosophy, and in some definitions he succeeded. With respect to David De Gea, the opinion seems less uniform. The tall Spaniard was United’s undoubted saving grace over two turbulent campaigns since Ferguson’s departure. Growing into the stature of previous legends such as Schmeichel and Van Der Saar had won him rave reviews, with many suggesting that United had signed their future number 1. However, the allure of Madrid has been hard to resist for many a talented player to have donned the Red and White (or in De Gea’s case, the green). De Gea’s nationality, and more specifically his upbringing in the Spanish capital make his departure seem all the more inevitable.
Should Manchester United then be surprised, or more accepting of the inevitability that their best players will always seek a move to Madrid? Have they not learned from past instances?
The answer in far from simple, but the reality is also far from easy to accept.
Ruud van Nistelrooy was the world’s greatest number 9, and could achieve more at Madrid than at United. David Beckham was an academy product, who couldn’t handle the way he was treated (and rightly so) yet ended a regrettable tenure at the Bernabeu after two seasons. Cristiano Ronaldo was earmarked for Madrid, the moment his childhood dream came closer to fruition. David De Gea unfortunately fits the bill.
His performances are breathtaking, his talent undeniable, and his promise, prodigious. United have invested heavily in him, while many wouldn’t have kept faith after his debut season. They brought in the best trainers, believed in him, moulded him into one of the world’s best between the posts, and made him the best that he can be in one of the sternest testing grounds for any player, let alone a young Spanish goalkeeper.
While Louis van Gaal has made every single effort to ensure De Gea’s stay, he has not extorted anything, belittled his indecisiveness nor froze him out. Instead, he’s acted in a more respectful and pragmatic manner than most who know his past would expect. In a recent interview with, ManchesterEveningNews.co.uk, the Dutchman explained that.
“I am the victim, the fellow players are the victims, the club is the victim,” he said, arguing that the transfer window should not be open when the season is progressing. “But that’s why the transfer period has to change.
“He’s the best goalkeeper we’ve had the last three years I believe. The last two years he was nominated by the fans as the best player at the club. Do you think the coach wants him to leave? I don’t think so. The player still has to manage this situation.”
Louis van Gaal has proved that no one player is bigger than the club. After abject performances against Barcelona and more notably PSG, van Gaal benched the Spaniard, feeling that he wasn’t at 100% mentally. While it seems ludicrous to drop the team’s best player on the opening match day, van Gaal has proved that in the future he envisages 100% commitment from Manchester United player, or a spot on the bench awaits them. While seemingly harsh to many, it’s the sort of hard handed professionalism that United has sorely needed to get the club to take itself seriously.
United have offered De Gea a contract that is believed to make him the highest paid goalkeeper in the world. United have bought proper talent to push for titles after languishing in mediocrity for the past two years. They’ve awarded him the best player of the club, twice, and fans the world over have sung his name. Unlike other teams who have great goalkeepers, such as Chelsea and Bayern Munich, none are as central to the success of their club as David De Gea.
Has he therefore got tired of shouldering the responsibility? Does he deserve to have such a chop-change inept defence in front of him? Has he not earned any future decision he’s likely to make?
The sad reality is that he has. He’s done everything right, by the book, consistently improved, only to reach an unfortunate impasse.
Real Madrid are undoubtedly the team he sees himself in. It’s the dream most Latin players have when they were introduced to football. The white jerseys, the raucous Bernabeu, the meticulous assembly of the world’s greatest players and the prestige that comes out of defending it’s honour. It all seems perfect for De Gea. The prodigal son of Madrid, may only be itching to make his fabled return, but he must realise that the Bernabeu is not the bastion of glory it once was, and he needn’t have his eyes wide open to see it.
Madrid’s own prodigal son, Iker Casillas, was shamelessly booted out of the club after the honchos higher up felt he wasn’t needed anymore. Madrid’s own leader, winner, and most consistent performer over a decade, was painfully booted by his own fans, left isolated on his farewell, exiting the Bernabeu in a manner befitting a failed loan spell, not 19 years of tireless commitment. Florentino Perez is no stranger to dropping the proverbial hammer, and for all his pomp and promise, De Gea has every chance to be the victim, when said hammer drops.
Furthermore, Real have handed Casillas’ no. 1 jersey to former second-in-command Keylor Navas, while purchasing academy product Kiko Casilla as his number two. Real seem serious about carrying on this combination, as coach Rafa Benitez in a recent post match interview said,
“If someone else comes along then we will welcome them but they have to be better than what we have.” Keylor played in the first half and Kiko played after the restart,” Benitez said. “I had a great goalkeeper in the first half and a really good one in the second half. We have another good goalkeeper [Fernando Pacheco] waiting on the bench.”
While Perez and not Benitez will ultimately make the decision of signing De Gea – possibly on a free transfer next summer – it could represent one of the smartest pieces of business the club has ever made.
Perez sent a low bid to test United’s resolve, but the Real President is yet to play hardball with Ed Woodward. The United president has refuted any advances towards United’s prized No.1, and will continue to do so, until a satisfactory decision is achieved. Despite having a year left on his contract, United are not balling for anything less than their valuation, which is set to be around A?35 Million, or a prospective player exchange involving Real’s leader Sergio Ramos.
Woodward however, is not naive, and has realised that De Gea might well make the switch this summer. Though the contingency plan of Sergio Romero may not convince everyone, he has played a full season under van Gaal at AZ Alkmaar, and understands his method of training very well.
David De Gea is by some considerable distance, United’s best player. He has held that mantle for a good three seasons, and there is little to suggest that he wont get even better. Both clubs have the money, both have the worldwide fan base, both are widely regarded as some of the greatest teams ever assembled, but only one truly wants De Gea. The problem lies, as to whether De Gea truly wants them.