Hounded by criticism ever since his initial teething troubles, the £18 million Spaniard is putting down the challenge of Anders Lindegaard and proving himself at Manchester United
By George Ankers
Goalkeepers are easy to write off. Many can have their opinions of a keeper coloured by just one serious mistake, refusing to budge no matter how many times said player goes on to quietly do his job for years to come.
The inverse is true, where one or two brilliant saves can inflate opinion on otherwise suspect youngsters. Witness Wojciech Szczesny at Arsenal as a keeper only just beginning to be questioned more seriously – and look at David de Gea for one who is still taking more flak than he deserves.
Recruited in place of retired the great Edwin van der Sar, the Spaniard was already set to be held up to higher standards than most. Priced at £18 million, too many saw the investment in the present rather than the future.
Then he let in a soft goal in his first game, the Community Shield against Manchester City, and the tone of general opinion was set.
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Having been demoted by Sir Alex Ferguson to an equal-partners rotation role in goal with Anders Lindegaard, seemingly for his own good, the youngster now looks to be cementing his No.1 status for good. It is overdue.
Not having a settled first choice between the nets is clearly not ideal; no champion side has been uncertain in that department. The months-long reluctance to field De Gea whenever there were suggestions of physical struggle ahead appeared a bizarre pandering to punters that risked neither glovesman feeling like they had Sir Alex's full faith.
But the Spaniard is making himself impossible to ignore any longer; the starts are beginning to come more regularly. Perhaps now the watching public are ready to accept that he is the best man for the role.
The fact is that De Gea, for all the mishaps and errors of judgement that he still makes, is a superior goalkeeper to Lindegaard. He has better reach, sharper reflexes and a dash of distinctiveness that sets him apart.
Without doubt, the former Atletico Madrid man is unorthodox and sometimes almost difficult to watch. He has repeatedly shown a tendency to save with his legs rather than his hands; not how most would do it but it gets results. His bushy beard does nothing to play down his youthful appearance; most likely some of his detractors feel that they are seeing a child asked to do a man's job.
But recent fixtures have seen him impress as much as ever. It has not been an entirely error-free season but De Gea is playing in front of an unsettled, injured and often just plain below-part defence. Most of the goals that get past him are not attributable to his own faults.
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Perhaps most encouragingly, he coped well when starting against Stoke City with a vital block from Jonathan Walters in the type of game for which he had been previously left out.
This all comes while under a stream of criticism from pundits and supporters who have already made up their minds about him. Many other young men would have let that kind of pressure mould them into exactly the unstable liability as which he is characterised.
At 21, there is still so much time for De Gea to improve on the weaknesses of his game and it is undoubtedly easier for him to develop those aspects than for his competition, Lindegaard, to teach himself that 'X-factor' which powers the Spaniard's most instinctive stops.
But, even with that work to be done, he has been ready for a while to do that development on the front line. With the United defence still fluctuating, a regular goalkeeper will be important to stabilising it.
Szczesny may return to the Arsenal first team as a returning hero but he is no better developed than his opposite number. If his nightmare at Euro 2012 is anything to go by, he is most likely the worse of the two. But he made a good first impression, so the critical eye has yet to be properly turned on him.
So if you are one of those who have had David de Gea pegged since day one and lazily stuck to that early read ever since, open your mind and look again. With goalkeepers across the Premier League under more pressure than ever this season, he is emerging as one of those dealing with it best. It's time to take him seriously.
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