Legend goes that a broken fax machine was all that kept David De Gea from his purported dream move to Real Madrid back in 2015. The detailed account is, naturally, slightly more complex with documents being sent right at the very end of the transfer window and in the end not being processed through FIFA channels in time. Both clubs played the blame game before De Gea, surprisingly, signed a four-year deal. Now he may finally be on his way.
The end of the saga produced positive results for United, with the star goalkeeper offering consistent excellence in winning his third Sir Matt Busby Player of the Year award a year after his transfer to the Bernabéu collapsed.
"Legend goes that a broken fax machine was all that kept De Gea from his dream move to Madrid back in 2015. Both clubs played the blame game, now he may finally be on his way."
It can now be reasonably argued that De Gea is one of the greatest goalkeepers to have ever played for the club. After a rocky start he’s developed into one of the world’s elite stoppers and his numbers for United are impressive. De Gea has played 266 times for United and kept 96 clean sheets; a number made all the more remarkable given some of the flimsy defenses he’s been forced to protect.
In terms of trophies, the Spaniard has won the Premier League, FA Cup, League Cup and Community Shield, hoovering up all that he can in England before taking into account the Europa League medal he could secure before the season is out. The stopper has certainly come a long way from the skinny, donut loving, youngster who signed in 2011.
Yet it seems that a parting of ways is only a question of when, and not if. The lure of Madrid, reuniting with his family and girlfriend, is seemingly irresistible. Even the guarantee of a weekly private Slipknot concert at Old Trafford may not be enough to convince De Gea to stay. If the now daily reports in Madrid mouthpiece Marca are to be believed the Spaniard will make his move back to his home city in the summer.
United took a chance in signing the player, but he has more than repaid the club with some breathtaking performances and tremendous stops, such as his effort against Juan Mata. Take into account De Gea’s professionalism, fully demonstrated when he was frozen out by Louis van Gaal during the 2015 summer transfer saga. The goalkeeper kept his counsel and slotted back into the first team without making a fuss.
Van Gaal might still be in a job had he opted to play De Gea from the start of the 2015/16 season. Of the four games De Gea missed, United beat Tottenham Hotspur and Aston Villa, drew against Newcastle United and, crucially, lost to Swansea City – a game that included a howler from Sergio Romero.
United missed out on Champions League football on goal difference and while there’s no guarantee that playing De Gea would have changed that outcome, the question still lingers – could he have made a difference against Swansea and in the process secure the vital point required to qualify for Europe’s premier competition?
That’s a topic for another day, but while losing the De Gea will represent a blow the club is probably in a better position to deal with it De Gea’s loss under José Mourinho than in the Van Gaal era. There are replacement options, with gossip that that Jan Oblak’s agent flew into Old Trafford to discuss a transfer, while Italian wunderkind Gianluigi Donnarumma, a client of Mino Raiola, has also been mooted as a possible acquisition. As successors go, Oblak or Donnarumma are not bad if De Gea moves on.
More importantly, the club isn’t under any immediate pressure to sell given that De Gea’s contract runs till 2019, so Mourinho and Ed Woodward have the room to negotiate a sensible transfer fee with Real Madrid, and line-up a suitable replacement – this summer or the next depending on how discussions go.
Indeed, De Gea’s situation is unique because he’s not a prototypical galactico given that he’s a goalkeeper, but from Florentino Pérez’ point of view the lure of signing a highly marketable player who happens to be Spain’s number one – and one of the best players in his position in the world – is too tempting to resist. From a PR perspective Pérez can also claim that he finally got his man should De Gea sign this summer.
The odds of repetition with any potential replacement are slim. If Donnarumma signed, for example, there’s always the possibility that he may want to replace Gianluigi Buffon at Juventus sometime in the future, though the Italian club does not possess United’s financial clout.
Losing De Gea would naturally be a disappointment to Mourinho and supporters as he is a special talent. That said if the move happens this summer it won’t be nearly as catastrophic as a move two seasons ago. After all, even Ronaldo was sold to Los Merengues and the world kept on turning – it will be no different if De Gea returns to Madrid with United’s blessing.
Besides, De Gea has done plenty enough for the club to decide his own future – as a player he’s been professional, a match winner and, arguably, a club great.
As goodbyes go De Gea’s potential departure has been a long, with only the most optimistic supporters now under the impression that he’ll reject Madrid’s advances. The only potential obstacle to a transfer now appears to be Pérez, should El Presidente turn his attention elsewhere.
De Gea’s transfer is unlikely to be a bitter affair this time – and the root of that feeling could just be that the club is better prepared to cope with any loss that two seasons past.