x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

David De Gea has big gloves to fill at Manchester United

Many have tried, but only Edwin van der Sar has managed to match Old Trafford's greatest No 1, Peter Schmeichel. Now it is the turn of a 20-year-old Spaniard.

David De Gea is seen as the heir apparent for the Spanish goalkeeper, Iker Casillas, who has won the World Cup and European Championship with the national side
David De Gea is seen as the heir apparent for the Spanish goalkeeper, Iker Casillas, who has won the World Cup and European Championship with the national side

Wayne Rooney sees a ball played into his path by the midfielder, Anderson. Manchester United's star striker has time to pick his spot as he runs towards the ball, before striking it ferociously at goal.

United are in training pre-season and David De Gea, their new young Spanish goalkeeper, a close season signing from Atletico Madrid, dives towards the ball and gets his fingers to it, but he cannot save it.

Nobody could, yet De Gea curses himself in Spanish. He then makes several outstanding stops as he throws his giant, yet slight, 6ft 4in (1.93m) frame around his goal. When he is beaten he curses each time.

De Gea does not like to be beaten.

The 20 year old joined up with his new teammates during United's North American pre-season tour last month. He does not speak English, and communication issues were evident in his first games for his new club among the many fine saves.

Anders Lindegaard, the Dane who United purchased as a reserve goalkeeper in January, saw his chance to become United's No 1 in the absence of the recently retired Edwin Van der Sar.

With a new Old Trafford goalkeeping hierarchy not established, Lindegaard impressed as he shared goalkeeping duties with De Gea and Ben Amos, United's third keeper. While other United players darted through the media mixed zones afterwards, the Dane spoke patiently of his ambition to be the first-choice stopper.

"For me, it's about being No 1," Lindegaard said. "That is what it's all about - playing. I enjoy competing and, so far, I feel very good. I think I've played very well, so I believe in my chance. If I didn't believe in my chance, how could I expect other people to?"

Unlike past relations between the men in the United net - one goalkeeper once refused to start an interview because the presence of another goalkeeper was offending him - De Gea and Lindegaard train well together.

Sir Alex Ferguson, their manager, selected De Gea for last Sunday's Community Shield game against Manchester City at Wembley.

By half-time, the more critical edge of United's support were judging him as an expensive flop.

The slow motion replays of Edin Dzeko's low drive from distance which beat De Gea for City's second goal did not look good for the Spaniard.

In training he had cursed if he was beaten at his post by Rooney. In front of the watching millions at Wembley, he was beaten by a shot, someone expected to be Spain's No 1 once Iker Casillas stands aside, should have stopped easily.

De Gea will get many more chances and he will make more mistakes. He gave away a penalty on his Atletico league debut when he was 18, but then saved it.

If his subsequent Atletico form is a marker, he will establish himself in Manchester, yet many young goalkeepers have failed at Old Trafford, one reason why eyebrows were raised when United signed a player half the age of the outgoing Van der Sar.

United watched De Gea a dozen times last season and he came with glowing assessments.

"De Gea doesn't have nerves," said Ricardo, himself a former United goalkeeper, who signed for £1.5 million (Dh8.9m) as cover for Fabien Barthez in 2002. "Some goalkeepers need to feel the confidence of the manager. De Gea is the type of goalkeeper who can give the manager confidence."

Emilio Alvarez, his goalkeeping coach at Atletico, noted how he had mastered the key aspects of goalkeeping: the physical, the technical, the tactical and "especially the psychological".

De Gea is young and has been described as "raw" and "a rookie" by the English media. Indeed some watching the training session in Washington wondered how someone so slight could cope against giant strikers like Didier Drogba or Andy Carroll, but De Gea played 57 first-team games for Spain's third best-supported team, where he was also a Europa League winner. He is versed in the demands of a big club, if not one as big as United.

At least he can also count on a close friend moving from Madrid to Manchester, his former Atletico roommate Sergio Aguero, the striker who has joined Manchester City. He will just be hoping that Aguero does not become his biggest nightmare.

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