Having played less than 100 competitive first team games, Manchester United’s €20 million acquisition of Atlético Madrid’s David de Gea represents a significant risk. Indeed, in replacing Edwin van der Sar with a callow youth – de Gea is not 21 until November – Sir Alex Ferguson is taking a potentially huge gamble next season. But it’s a risk that is almost certainly worth taking, with the Madrid-born stopper offering the potential to be the world’s best in his position.
de Gea’s move comes after Old Trafford scouts followed the ‘keeper for almost two years as the Spanish under-21 international grew from ‘B’ level football at the start of the 2009/10 campaign, to the cusp of the World Cup squad nine months later. Those observers, which included Ferguson during the now infamous ‘scouting trip’ to Valencia last autumn, have witnessed a player mature from the kid who led Spain to the under-17 World Cup final in 2007, to a ‘keeper of authority and composure at Atlético.
Indeed, de Gea’s uncanny likeness to van der Sar will provide reassurance to supporters and team mates alike, despite the player’s lack of experience. At 6′ 5″, with a seemingly unflappable personality, many feel de Gea possesses both the physical and mental attributes to make it at Old Trafford.
Certainly, Ferguson expressed few doubts when United broke the official media silence after Gary Neville’s testimonial in late May.
“We’ve been working on it for quite a while. We identified him quite a while back as one we should go for,” admitted the 69-year-old United boss.
“He’s a young goalkeeper, very quick, good composure, presence and an outstanding replacement for Van der Sar. We were looking for the same type of qualities as Edwin, because the one great quality Edwin always had was his composure and organisational ability. With David De Gea, he is very similar that way.”
Although the deal is now in place with both Atlético and the player the official announcement will take place after de Gea has officially terminated an agreement with his current agent Hector Rincon on 31 June. In all probability the Madrileño will sign on with Jorge Mendes’ Gestifute – the agency that brought United Nani, Anderson and Bébé – and be unveiled to the media on Friday 1 July, when the international transfer window opens.
In the meantime planning is well advanced for de Gea’s introduction to Manchester, with the inevitable culture shock that the move will bring. The youngster is moving to England with his parents and popstar girlfriend Edurne. The player’s London-based sister will also help integrate the family into English life, according to those close to the deal.
However, it has been a difficult campaign at Atlético as the player’s form suffered under the weight of pressure, both from United’s spring offer and inevitable ‘season season syndrome’. Mistakes have come aplenty as Atlético shipped 53 goals in La Liga, missing out on a place in Europe next season.
Yet, few observers believe that de Gea is anything bar top class, including those closest to the 20-year-old.
“This has been an irregular season. He’s had his head confused because of all the rumours. At times he didnt sleep well but we’ve seen what a marvelous talent he is,” Spanish pundit Guileme Balague told Talkradio recently.
“I’ve spoken to van der Sar about him and said ‘what do you think of him?’ He said: ‘he’s got everything’. He is van der Sar. The man can play the ball. He’s very tall, his heart goes very slow, he doesn’t get the tension.”
However cool-headed, de Gea will inevitably come under huge pressure to perform at United, with every mistake scrutinised by the media and fans alike. After all Atlético – Spain’s ‘third club’ – is rarely in the running for the country’s major honours in an age of Real and Barcelona’s Spanish duopoly. This despite lifting the 2010 UEFA Europea League and Vincente Calderon’s notoriously demanding fans.
Former Red Ricardo López, who played just five games for the club over three years, says that de Gea’s personality will see him through the inevitable tough times ahead.
“De Gea doesn’t have nerves. I’m convinced that De Gea is good enough to play for Manchester United,” claimed Ricardo.
“He’s big, quick and his concentration is at a high level throughout the game. He’s comfortable with high balls and is very confident despite being so young. There are very few goalkeepers who can deal with that. Some goalkeepers need to feel the confidence of the manager. De Gea is the type of goalkeeper who can give the manager confidence.
“He does not worry when he plays against Barcelona or Real Madrid. That is a good sign because some goalkeepers become nervous when they play in front of big crowds in the biggest stadiums like Old Trafford.”
Before de Gea makes his Theatre of Dreams début he will represent Spain at this summer’s Euro Under 21 championships in Denmark, appearing against England in the group stages. The tournament will offer an early view to those Reds curious about the new signing, including new team mates Chris Smalling, Tom Cleverley and Danny Welbeck.
David de Gea Quintana
Born: Madrid, Spain 7 November 1990
– Atlético B: 35
– Atlético Madrid: 84
– Spanish age groups (U15, U17, U20, U21): 39
– FIFA U-17 World Cup Runner-up: 2007
– UEFA Europa League: 2010
– UEFA Super Cup: 2010
– UEFA European Under-21 Championship 2011