Monday, 30 January 2012

Solving a 'Problem' like David de Gea

Oh, David de Gea. How dare you miscalculate or make a mistake whilst guarding the goal for Manchester United. How dare you not save every single shot which comes towards you. How dare you look ever so slightly nervous under the constant, critical scrutiny of the English media and the quick-to-judge fans. It's not like Edwin van der Sar or Peter Schmeichel, the men whom you are expected to live up to at Manchester United ever committed a goalkeeping error at the age of 21!

Manchester United's young Spanish goalkeeper is once again in the spotlight after returning to action against Liverpool having played just 2 out of United's last 7 games. It was a tough return at Anfield, and one in which his performance was not the confident, powerful, commanding and solid one which a £20 million price tag immediately demands. The two conceded goals are studies in hindsight and are seen as extremely preventable and of course, they were, but it seems that De Gea is the easy target of abuse from many, whom mistakenly or blindly believe he is the only one who could have prevented the goals and even the loss as a whole.

Indeed, he might have done better in both situations, with the first perhaps requiring a more decisive and definitive decision as to whether he should commit to catch the ball or stay put on his line to prevent the shot from invading the goal. For the second, he may have closed down Kuyt quicker or made his frame larger to thwart the shot, but in reality, both would have been difficult for any goalkeeper to deal with. It is simply because De Gea is a £20 million signing for Manchester United that added analysis is afforded to his slightest of errors and overly anxious suggestions are shoved forward to explain how the youngster should improve.

It seems to be forgotten that Manchester United have invested in a young goalkeeper because they believe he has fantastic potential to become one of the best in the world. It would be foolish to think that a 21 year-old who is new to England and therefore new to the Premier League can come into a position regarded by many as one of the toughest jobs in football and be a faultless being who is an accomplished expert.

He has much to learn, as does every goalkeeper of his age. The position requires bounds of both mental and physical strength with the psychological pressures of knowing even the simplest of errors can completely change the dimension of a game instantly. Entirely responsible for the guarding of the goal, a goalkeeper needs to be prepared and focused throughout the whole of the game. An outfield player can misplace several passes throughout a 90 minute match and avoid being called out for it, but as the last line of defence, the goalkeeper has little room for error.

De Gea has, after just two seasons as the number one 'keeper for Atletico Madrid, been thrust into this incredibly difficult position as the man to prevent goals being scored in order to defend United's title as the Champions of England. Several mistakes have been made, and performances have been far from perfect, but surely some leeway can be afforded, despite the size and expectation of the club?

Most goalkeepers spend several seasons as a regular for another, lesser known side before making the leap to the big time. Liverpool's Pepe Reina was number one at Villereal for three seasons before settling in England, Arsenal's legendary David Seaman had nine years of experience before joining the London club, while Manchester City's Joe Hart required several loan spells and two seasons as on/off number 1 choice shared with Shay Given before establishing himself as top-dog.

All have turned out to be fantastically consistent players and very reliable goalkeepers. There is absolutely no doubting however, that every one of them, including the two Manchester United 'keepers in recent times who have established themselves as the best; Peter Schmeichel and Edwin van der Sar, have all made mistakes throughout their careers. It would be even safer to say that all of them would have, if thrust into the Manchester United first team at the age of 21, been rather apprehensive and sometimes indecisive when up against the best players in the League.

What De Gea needs is what all the best goalkeepers in the world have been afforded; time to improve. Yes, he has made some mistakes, but he has also pulled off some fantastic saves which are mentioned far less. Let him settle, learn English, bulk up and gain confidence with a good run in the team. His first season (only 20 games so far) is hardly the time to judge, especially when you consider the fascinating statistic that in 34 games in all competitions this season, United have started 22 different back-four combinations.

Give him a regular back four who are allowed to trust him and the time he needs to command his place in the team well, and most of his critics will be eating their harsh words about this young, talented and potentially brilliant young goalkeeper.

Follow Me on Twitter @DBSFootball

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