Generally speaking, there’s a blind-spot in football with goalkeeping and people tend to appraise performances without knowing all that much about the position. The analysis is all very simplistic: saves are good, goals are bad – no grey areas.
Earlier today, I wrote about how the pressures that Wilfried Zaha faces when he moves to Manchester United, and how rival fans and a large section of the media will hope that Sir Alex Ferguson has made a bad signing. David De Gea’s an example of that schadenfraude, and how it will always exist around successful teams.
United parted with a hefty fee for the Spaniard, and as a result he’s there to be shot at – that comes with the territory of keeping goal at Old Trafford.
Judging a 22 year-old goalkeeper on the mistakes he makes at this stage of his career is a nonsense. The aspects of the game De Gea struggles with – crosses, decision-making – are those which a young player in that position will always have trouble with; a goalkeeper doesn’t develop those attributes without experience, and so this learning curve was always inevitable.
He may play a different position, but think back to Rio Ferdinand’s early days at West Ham: he was obviously a talented player, but he certainly made his fair share of errors. Defensive players, especially goalkeepers, take longer to learn the game and be a force within it. Forwards and midfielders can get away with their naivety, because the errors which result aren’t that noticeable – but it’s different down at the other end of the pitch.
I’ve said before, and I will say it until I’m blue in the face: De Gea is something very special indeed, and as and when he adjusts properly to English football and grows into the role of Manchester United’s first-choice, he will be amongst the very best on the planet. Yes, he has weaknesses at the moment, but the strengths he already exhibits are skills which can’t be taught. He’s very, very gifted. Shot-stopping like that, reaction speed, unbelievable agility, and incredible reach…nitpick at his deficiencies if you like, but you’re missing the bigger picture.
Rival fans want him to be a disaster, and certain journalists enjoy Ferguson making errors of judgement – but these are all short-term victories, De Gea will be worth his weight in gold within three years. He’s the most naturally-talented goalkeeper United have had since Peter Schmeichel.