“I can guarantee that he’s not going this season, that I can.” Jose Mourinho’s assessment of David de Gea’s transfer status this week came as a huge boost to Manchester United fans.
With the goalkeeper being the subject of the perennial links with Real Madrid following his aborted move to the European champions in 2015, it was vital that United supporters’ fears were laid to rest.
And on Wednesday he once again reminded the world why his continued stay at Old Trafford could be one of the key pieces behind Mourinho making a success of his second season as United manager. De Gea’s performance against Barcelona in the International Champions Cup ensured that the nature of United’s 1-0 loss was far less chastening than it might otherwise have been.
The United defence in front of the Spaniard looked off the pace up against the dazzling forward line of Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Neymar, while there was a lack of protection offered ahead of them as 36-year-old skipper Michael Carrick fought a losing battle to provide an adequate shield. The Catalans’ speed of movement in the opposition half had United chasing for long spells.
By the time Neymar netted the only goal on 32 minutes after pouncing on an Antonio Valencia slip, Barca could have already been out of sight were it not for their world-class custodian.
In the opening moments he had to sprawl low to his left to tip away a left-foot drive across goal by Suarez, and he later blocked well as Neymar shot from a narrow angle. Even after the Brazilian had opened the scoring he showed 100 per cent concentration when getting down quick once more to keep out Suarez as Barca upped the intensity with half-time approaching.
Ernesto Valverde’s decision to rotate his entire XI at half-time coincided with De Gea’s withdrawal, and Mourinho will have given his No.1 a huge pat on the back for his curtailed evening’s work. Just as his two penalty saves in the inglorious shoot-out win over Madrid at the weekend helped to see United home, he was again their saviour in Landover even if they still couldn’t get the result they desired.
De Gea might have seen his hold on the club Player of the Year award ended last season after three straight years of success, but he remains as important as ever to United’s plans. Sergio Romero’s performances last term drew widespread praise and helped Mourinho to rest his first choice with some regularity, but there can be no questioning De Gea’s position as one of the world’s greatest goalkeepers.
In a season which will see United return to the Champions League there can be no more liberties taken between the sticks, and that makes De Gea’s retention even more vital. He is already one of the very best in the business, and at just 26 years of age he is still a long way from the traditional peak for most goalkeepers.
Mourinho has spoken regularly during this tour of the United States about the need to add at least one more player to his squad, if not two. But for some fans the news that De Gea will again be wearing United colours this season is every bit as crucial as the new additions that could yet take place.