A penny for the thoughts of Manchester United goalkeeper David De Gea as he watched Saturday’s Champions League final between Real Madrid and Liverpool.
Had De Gea moved back to his home city of Madrid in 2015 — which, barring a dodgy fax machine, he very well could have — he could now be the proud possessor of three consecutive Champions League medals and part of a side which will be considered as one of the best in history.
Instead, he plays for Manchester United, where he hasn’t come close to winning European football’s biggest prize, but has won the club’s Player of the Year trophy season after season. If De Gea wants to be kept busy at work, he’s better off staying in Manchester than moving to Madrid.
As Loris Karius demonstrated in Kiev, having a top goalkeeper matters when you’re a top team. Karius’ two mistakes sank Liverpool’s chances of claiming a sixth European Cup. You’ll Never Walk Alone? The German proved Liverpool’s anthem wrong at the end of the game on Saturday as not a single player in red consoled him.
When a skinny De Gea arrived at Old Trafford for around £19 million from Atletico Madrid in 2011, he often cut a solitary figure. The players in front of him were concerned that he was being bullied and targeted by opponents, worried that he was being over-rotated by Sir Alex Ferguson and worried that he didn’t speak English.
Those fears started to subside after six months and now there’s not a United fan around who would like to see him sold. So far, the club have been astute enough not to bow to Madrid’s pressure.
Several factors have worked in United’s favour in retaining De Gea. First is that they pay so well that, should Madrid match his wages, he’d be one of their top earners. No Madrid goalkeeper, not even Iker Casillas, has ever held that pay status.
Second, Keylor Navas is very popular in the Madrid dressing room and among fans. Indeed, a survey in Marca days before the aborted De Gea transfer showed overwhelming support for Navas over a man who began his career on the other side of Madrid.
Yet the rumours continue to bubble away. It’s bizarre that one of the world’s best goalkeepers is from Madrid yet doesn’t play in his home city, but there has always been some reason why he stays.
Last year, Sergio Ramos led a delegation to see Madrid’s president Florentino Perez and urged him that Navas should stay Madrid’s No. 1. He did.
United also have no intention of selling a cornerstone of their side. Now on 314 appearances, he should move into the club’s all-time 50 appearance makers in the autumn and Jose Mourinho has a good relationship with the Spaniard, who has close friends in Manchester including Ander Herrera and Juan Mata.
De Gea gets on well with the other United goalkeepers too and if there’s one area where United boast a surfeit of talent, it’s among their stoppers.
Argentina international Sergio Romero — ironically known as ‘Chiquito‘ (Tiny) because he’s big — is probably the best No. 2 in the Premier League. The 31-year-old will miss the World Cup due to a knee injury that requires surgery according to his country, but is not a reason to deny him a place in Russia according to his wife Eliana Guercio.
“There’s nothing broken,” she said on the Los Angeles De La Manana show. “It’s a piece of loose cartilage. The doctors told him he was OK for the World Cup. The recovery is two to three weeks maximum.”
Considered fit to play for United from the start of May, Romero lasted 90 minutes without conceding a goal in United’s final league game of the season against Watford and was also on the bench in the FA Cup final.
He was unhappy to miss out on the FA Cup semifinal against Tottenham having played in the four previous rounds, but Romero knows the score. He knows he plays second fiddle to De Gea and that he has to be happy with starting only a handful of games a season.
Joel “the Cat” Pereira is United’s third-choice goalkeeper. The 21-year-old has already played for the first team and Mourinho has described him as “the best Portuguese goalkeeper of the next generation.” Pereira excelled on loan at Rochdale and Belenenses in Portugal’s top flight, but he played only 192 minutes of competitive football last season. Though he is under contract with United until 2021, he needs to play more.
United have even more goalkeeping talent — and English too. Sam Johnstone came close to promotion to the Premier League on loan at Aston Villa before his side lost 1-0 in the Championship playoff final against Fulham, playing 48 times for the club last season. The 25-year-old is scheduled to return to Old Trafford , but Villa are not his only suitors: new Premier League side Cardiff City are also interested.
Dean Henderson is another goalkeeper contracted to United who was involved in the playoffs. The 21-year-old played 48 games on loan for third-tier Shrewsbury Town and was excellent against Rotherham United, saving a ninth minute penalty and making several key saves in a 2-1 defeat. Nevertheless, he was named in League One’s team of the season, kept 19 clean sheets and made his England under-21 debut in March. Bristol City reportedly have their eye on him, so he may gain promotion after all.
And you can’t get much more local than 22-year-old Kieran O’Hara who is from a big United supporting family in Urmston close to Old Trafford. He spent last season as United’s U23 goalkeeper in the reserve side which was relegated, but he was also selected to play for the Republic of Ireland at U21 level and signed a new contract in December.
Manchester United have never had so many talented goalkeepers on their books. It’s difficult to keep them all happy, but then it has been difficult to keep De Gea at the club for so long and United have managed that.
Although De Gea undoubtedly has able deputies waiting in the wings, United’s respectable defensive record relies heavily on the Spaniard’s often miraculous saves. It’s nice to know that talented backups exist, but the club will be doing everything in their power to keep him.
Andy Mitten is a freelance writer and the founder and editor of United We Stand. Follow him on Twitter: @AndyMitten.