The Spaniard has been Manchester United’s best player for the past five years – but there are now calls for him to be dropped after a series of errors
They have been the most uncharacteristic of mistakes.
A tame Lionel Messi shot from 20 yards went right under his body, Leroy Sane’s near-post effort found him flat-footed, and a pot-shot from distance was spilled straight into the path of Marcos Alonso.
David de Gea’s desperately poor run of form has been depicted by three errors in four games and now many people are calling for him to be dropped, with some even suggesting that an exit to Real Madrid this summer would be no great loss after all.
Such is the life of a goalkeeper, even the one who has been Manchester United’s indisputable Player of the Year in four of the previous five seasons.
His record over 360 games in the United goal is of no import anymore; it’s only the last four matches that matter to the armchair managers who deal only in superlatives and absolutes. To them, he has become a figure of fun rather than the sport’s best shot-stopper, as he was almost unanimously acclaimed until very recently.
The Spain No.1 is clearly in a rut. The string of mistakes he has made say as much, and his run of 12 appearances without a clean sheet is the longest such streak of his United career.
But to look at previous such spells is to uncover a trend which sees the 28-year-old struggling amid uncertainty.
De Gea failed to record a shut-out in 11 straight games in the 2012-13 season shortly after being deposed as Sir Alex Ferguson’s first-choice by Anders Lindegaard.
The Dane had been picked for four straight Premier League games before De Gea came in for a 3-0 win at Newcastle but his next 11 matches would be interspersed with six appearances for Lindegaard as Ferguson failed to nail down an undisputed No.1 during a spell in which United conceded 29 goals in 17 games.
The Spaniard would again go 11 games without keeping the opposition out in 2015 either side of his near-miss transfer to Real Madrid.
He had gone seven without a shut-out at the end of the 2014-15 campaign and then was party to an eighth when being substituted due to a hamstring injury against Arsenal on a day when the Old Trafford crowd spent much of their afternoon begging him not to head to the Santiago Bernabeu.
After Louis van Gaal had decided to leave out the ‘distracted’ De Gea at the start of the following season, the failed move to Madrid saw the goalkeeper sign a new deal and he returned to the starting line-up against Liverpool in the September, going three more matches before recording a clean sheet.
It has been during periods when clarity has been missing in his personal situation that De Gea has struggled the most in his eight-year spell at United, and as such it comes as no surprise that he has been far from his best of late.
With his contract approaching its final 12 months, United have so far refused to meet his wage demands.
The talk is that De Gea and his agent Jorge Mendes are insisting that the No.1’s new deal reflects the higher pay threshold established when Alexis Sanchez arrived at Old Trafford for a back-busting £390,000 a week in January 2018. United, though, don’t want that to become the norm.
In the meantime, uncertainty reigns, and it can hardly have helped matters that Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has made multiple changes to his defensive line of late. Only in the first two matches of the recent 12-game spell have United retained the same back-line in front of De Gea, with a total of 10 different defensive selections in the dozen matches in question.
Solskjaer rightly remains adamant that De Gea will not be dropped.
“David has been unbelievable. We support each other,” the manager said after the draw with Chelsea. “There is no chance anyone can blame him for losing points, he knows he could have had that shot but that is football.
“David is someone who likes to play games and I will have chats with him and he will respond in the right way.”
Meanwhile, with his future still not sorted, United now risk losing their best player and creating an issue for themselves in the one department on the pitch which has been of no concern until recently.
While there has been much talk of Sergio Romero’s quality as a back-up keeper, the Argentine has hardly been infallible when he has had a run in the side during his four years at the club.
The truth of the matter is that De Gea is not just the best option United have, he remains among the very best in the world.
He has made vital errors in games of late but so did Lev Yashin and Dino Zoff and Gordon Banks. Just because their careers didn’t occur during the Twitter generation, with every piece of action being analyzed on repeat for a week at a time, that doesn’t mean they were infallible.
As former Liverpool boss Graeme Souness so succinctly put it to Sky Sports on Sunday: “If you leave him out, you lose him forever,” and it is time United put an end to the lingering doubts and backed their greatest player of the post-Ferguson era.
Give him the contract he deserves, put the uncertainty in the past, and let him go out onto the pitch with a clear head and a secure future.
That’s the way to get the best out of David de Gea, and having the best David de Gea is a luxury few clubs could dream of.