Simply put, there are very few goalkeepers in the world like David de Gea.
Manchester United’s Sir Matt Busby Player of the Year in four of the last five seasons, the Spain international has been just about the only constant in one of the more turbulent spells in the club’s history.
Since Sir Alex Ferguson retired in 2013, United haven’t got close to a Premier League title win and recently appointed their fourth permanent manager in less than six seasons of the post-Ferguson era.
But during all the ups and downs, there has been De Gea. As stoic as he has been spectacular, the United number one has unfailingly gone about the business of being one of the world’s stand-out shot-stoppers.
Time and again he has come to United’s rescue at key moments of crucial games. And the stats only serve to underline his importance. In his eight years at Old Trafford he has saved 74 per cent of shots that have come his way, keeping 100 clean sheets in 269 Premier League appearances and conceding less than a goal a game in total. He has also made just eight errors leading to goals across his entire spell with the club.
The 28-year-old has been dependable in every respect, missing only 10 matches in the last six seasons. That includes the four he was left out of when Louis van Gaal claimed he was distracted by talk of a move to Real Madrid at the start of 2015-16 and three more which have come at the end of the last couple of seasons with United’s league fate already sealed and cup finals to prepare for.
So, as United get ready to face Barcelona on Wednesday, one might think it should be a no-brainer that De Gea be given a new contract with his current deal less than 15 months from expiry. But, despite lengthy negotiations between United and the player’s agent, there is still no accord and the club’s supporters are beginning to worry.
There is forever the spectre of Real Madrid lurking in the background when it comes to the former Atletico Madrid keeper, but in truth United can keep the Blancos wolf from the door if they want. They have spent the last four years keeping him happy since he signed a new deal in the aftermath of the infamous ‘Fax Machine Gate’, so if they were inclined to keep their best player then there should be no debate now.
But the genesis of the current deadlock can be traced back to January 2018 when Alexis Sanchez perched behind a piano to celebrate his four-and-a-half-year, £390,000-a-week contract which also entitled him to a further £75,000 for every start he makes in United colours.
From the moment the Reds board agreed to Sanchez’s demands they landed themselves in a self-inflicted bind for every future contract negotiation. The bar had suddenly been raised. And their difficulty has only been made worse by the Chilean’s terrible form in his 16 months in Manchester thus far.
It would be one thing if players came to the table demanding the same as Sanchez and the No.7 was performing brilliantly. But the current situation leaves United with no real argument if the likes of De Gea and Paul Pogba insist on their salaries being raised to the level of Sanchez’s at a time when they are of far greater importance to the team than the club’s top earner.
De Gea, in particular, is practically irreplaceable. Sergio Romero has done an admirable enough job when given the gloves since arriving in 2015 but there is just no way he could be expected to meet the Spaniard’s standards on a regular basis should De Gea be allowed to leave.
And were United to identify a potential replacement elsewhere then the wage demands of any goalkeeper aspiring to make it to the same level, added to a transfer fee, agents’ fees and associated costs, would soon see the club out of pocket to a similar tune than if they just paid De Gea what he is asking.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer did speak of the loyalty the club have shown to De Gea when asked about his keeper recently, saying: “David’s done fantastic since he came. The club really showed how much they wanted him back in the day when Eric [Steele – United’s former goalkeeping coach] and the gaffer found him.
“There were probably better keepers at that time, but the belief the manager showed in him with the criticism he got paid dividends.”
But the bottom line right now is that De Gea knows his worth. He is more than aware that he is the best goalkeeper in the world at the moment and if United were willing to break the bank for a mercurial attacker then they ought to be ready to hand over a similar sum to a player who has repaid the loyalty and then some over the years. Realistically, he could even come to be worth an awful lot more by the time a new long-term deal would be nearing its end.
United may rightly be very wary about getting themselves into a position where they are overpaying everybody in their squad on the back of one bad decision over Sanchez, but in De Gea’s case there is no argument to be made for allowing him to leave. Pogba's new deal is of secondary importance right now, regardless of how hard his agent Mino Raiola works to get something done this summer, because it is their number one who is their big priority.
They should just hurry up and pay the man what he is worth.