It's Tough at the Top, Dave.
After a summer of scratching around looking for something meaty to write about (and often coming up with little) the season has now started and there are a half dozen things I could write about this morning. A review of our 2-1 win over West Brom, an article on how our defence seems to have been almost decimated (again) with the season barely begun or the flack our new goalkeeper David De Gea has been receiving over the last week.
Well, hopefully there’ll be plenty of wins to report on during the coming season and the defensive crisis is almost becoming an annual event. The situation with De Gea is perhaps the single most important “problem” at this moment in time though and coming through it will require every last drop of experience and man-management skill that Fergie has at his disposal.
Watching Jamie Redknapp tear into him on Sky Sports yesterday (and last week when he seemed to come ready-armed with the fact that De Gea had conceded more goals from outside the box than any other keeper in Spain last season) was particularly disappointing because I seem to remember a young Jamie Redknapp playing alongside a young David James who had to endure a torrid time at the beginning of his career with the press dubbing him “Calamity James”.
Of course, this didn’t stop James becoming one of the best and most respected goalkeepers in English football but it no doubt took one hell of a lot of self-belief and soul-searching to come out of that period in one piece.
Already, I am seeing the word “calamity” being used alongside De Gea’s name and it feels like Redknapp has been waiting for something – anything – with which to beat United with (as an ex-Liverpool player and with his father the manager of a top Premier League club (our next opponents… as it happens) then there’s clearly a bit of a conflict of interest going on whenever Redknapp is asked to provide punditry for our matches) and he is milking the couple of errors that De Gea has made for all they are worth.
There can be no doubt that De Gea is feeling the strain and there can be no doubt that he isn’t an adequate replacement for Van Der Sar at this moment in time. However, there are several factors which need to be taken into account (and it would be decent of Redknapp, as a professional pundit, to perhaps acknowledge them) such as:-
1) De Gea is just twenty years of age.
2) De Gea’s English isn’t up to much at the moment.
3) De Gea has moved from the Spanish League to the English League.
4) De Gea has only just joined the club.
5) De Gea has only played one truly competitive match for United.
You put all these together and you have a very young man who’s whole world has been turned upside down over the last couple of months, has been taken from one country and plonked into another – one where he can barely speak the language, is probably still sorting out somewhere to live, is probably still learning his way around not just the general Manchester area but his way around Old Trafford! Is probably still learning is team-mates’ names, their abilities, their “game”. Is probably still learning what it means to be a Manchester United player. It is perhaps understandable that he isn’t at 100% at the moment and I can only imagine what it must be like to have to deal with all this at twenty when my biggest responsibility at that age was ensuring that I put my trousers on over my underpants every morning.
And then we’ve got the fact that he’s new to the Premier League. We’ve seen it time and again with players coming to England from abroad (and not just with goalkeepers) – it takes time for some of them to adjust – perhaps even a whole season. The situation with the goalkeeper is the worst situation because while a striker can make a mess of the odd chance here and there, a goalkeeper makes a mess of a save here and there and this is the result… widespread criticism from the lovely British press and some of the more biased TV pundits.
I don’t have any stats on this and it is just an hypothesis based on personal observation but I would be interested to see how many keepers coming to England have better second seasons than first seasons in terms of clean sheets etc. In hindsight, many United fans wished that Edwin Van Der Sar could have come straight to United instead of going to Fulham first but we perhaps received some benefit from that situation by way of the fact that VDS had had a few seasons in the PL by the time he came to us?
De Gea hasn’t had this luxury, he been launched straight in at the deep end and yesterday was a baptism of fire for the young Spaniard.
I don’t expect special treatment for him from the officials but there were a couple of instances yesterday when he seemed to get no protection whatsoever from the officials. Both came in quick succession late in the second half. One was where he was pushed clean off the pitch whilst making a high jump to collect the ball (the ref gave a corner). The next was where he received a forearm smash to the forehead, again whilst making a jump for the ball (on this occasion, the ref did give a free kick but had the correct decision been made on the first incident, this second wouldn’t have happened). De Gea must have been thinking to himself, “What the hell have I let myself in for here? This isn’t football as I know it.”
Not that I think I know better than the great Sir Alex Ferguson but I do wonder if it might not have made more sense to start the season with Lindegaard. He was very impressive in pre-season and, quite frankly, I don’t understand why (apart from the £18million price tag) De Gea has been given the nod over him in the “proper” games. Perhaps a period of settling in for De Gea, at least until he’d played a bit more in training with his new team-mates and learned a bit more English would not have been a bad idea? It’s not like we had to rush De Gea in – at 20 years of age, he’s got plenty of time ahead of him and Lindegaard has the benefit of a bit of experience of being on the scene for that bit longer.
The problem now, of course, is that to withdraw De Gea from the situation could do the lad’s confidence more harm than good – it would certainly only be further food and drink for De Gea’s critics, at any rate (although I’m not sure that Fergie would be concerned enough about that to allow it to sway his decision either way).
The good news for De Gea is that he’s at Manchester United. A club where us fans love to see young players come through, succeed and go on to enjoy long and successful careers with us. The fact that his new manager is also the best in the business when it comes to protecting and nurturing promising young talent won’t do him any harm either.
Personally, I’m hoping that this De Gea can weather this early storm (and, when all is said and done, we’ve still managed to win the games despite the errors so no damage has actually been done) and go on to demonstrate exactly why Fergie decided to splash out such a considerable sum for a young goalkeeper. I hope that by the end of the season, he is firmly in place as United’s #1 and, a perhaps few years down the line, we’ll all be proud of our still young goalkeeper when he is being hailed as the best in the world.