Defending David De Gea

by James Hunt

How can you tell David De Gea is a vampire? He hates crosses.

This joke, rolled out throughout the years for many a ‘dodgy keeper’, is currently being circulated using the name David De Gea where it may previously have been Massimo Taibi or Heurelho Gomes.

The difference, however, is that De Gea is vastly more talented than either of those, arguably the most talented ‘keeper to be the ‘butt’ of such a joke – and many other comments that aren’t to be repeated.

Seemingly every time United play, especially if the game is shown on Sky/ITV/ESPN, De Gea will be among the top trends. This is because he usually flicks between the spectacularly good and the shockingly bad as if controlled by a switch.

He has been mocked and ranted about far more than a goalkeeper of his ability should be. For all his mistakes, and there have been few, he is a bloody good goalkeeper.

People have been quick to write him off, but they would do well to remember that he is only 21 – in terms of goalkeeping, he’s barely out of primary school. One of the things he lacks is experience, and that cannot be taught on the training pitch. He has 20 years ahead of him, and I fully expect at least ten of those to be spent being regarded as one of the very best in the world.

He is not without fault, of course. There’s the aforementioned trouble with crosses, although given we’ve seen him many a time in sunlight, I think we can put paid to the vampire theory (unless he’s one of those newfangled Twilight vampires the girls love so much).

His 6’3” frame is often described as slight or wispy, and it’s true that he does need to get a few steaks down him, or perhaps a few more visits to that favourite of footballers and an apparent staple of their diet – Nando’s.

There’s also talk of a problem with his vision, and there have been various reports that he to undergo surgery to correct the problem. If that is the case, then in my eyes (no pun intended) his efforts should be applauded even more.

While we’ve seen mistakes this season, we’ve also seen plenty of quality. The save from Juan Mata’s free kick stands out, but there have been plenty of other moments as well. His shot stopping is excellent, and given the amount of long shots Manchester United have allowed their opponents this season (something not often mentioned when criticising De Gea), it needs to be.

His reflexes and agility are superb, while his distribution – both from goal kicks and when the ball is played back to him – is almost second to none. One of his biggest assets though is his mental strength. He has had to contend with moving to a new country, moving to one of the biggest club’s in the world, being signed for a massive transfer fee, replacing one of the best goalkeepers of the last twenty years in Edwin Van der Sar, and a bucket load of criticism to boot. For a 21 year old, he’s coped pretty well.

Derek Maaijen, of www.atleticofans.com (an Atletico Madrid fan site, in case you hadn’t guessed) said: “His biggest strength is his character. He has such a strong mentality. At Atleti (Atletico Madrid) and with Spain’s youth teams he’s also made mistakes, but he’ll never let his head down. He’ll actually start playing better after something’s gone wrong. During his debut at the Vicente Calderón he conceded a penalty only to stop it.

“Off the pitch he’s very ambitious. In 2009 he didn’t want to leave Atleti because he wanted to fight for his chance and he believed in himself. After only a season with the first team he wanted to leave for Manchester, because he knew my club couldn’t match his ambitions.

“I honestly don’t think there is a better young goalkeeper out there. When De Gea returns to his Atleti form, there are only five to ten goalkeepers in the world better than him. The De Gea at Atleti showed much more promise and is more talented then Joe Hart, Lindegaard, Courtois, etc, but they are currently ahead because they do have the confidence that he seems to be currently lacking.”

So, how can you tell David De Gea is a vampire? Because he’s strong (mentally if not physically), has great reflexes and agility, and has a long future ahead of him. Oh, and he hates garlic. Possibly.

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