David De Gea experienced a rough start to his Manchester United career, but he’s clearly turned a corner with his impressive midweek performance against Real Madrid.
The 22-year-old goalkeeper made a string of impressive saves against the Spanish champions in the Bernabeu to keep the Champions League last-16 tie alive.
A first-half fingertip save of a Fabio Coentrao shot and an improvised stop with his feet to deny the Portuguese again in the second-half illustrated his growing confidence.
His manager, Sir Alex Ferguson, and United goalkeeping coach, Eric Steele, both praised the young Spaniard’s composure and maturity following the performance.
‘Cresta cabeza’ – quiff-head in Spanish – is a title Steele has affectionately given De Gea to make him more at home in Manchester.
And yet, it would be fair to say his tenure as United’s number one has been uncomfortable at times and something the English media regularly highlight.
On his Devils debut in the 2011 Community Shield against Manchester City, De Gea was at fault when failing to deal with Edin Dzeko’s long-range effort.
And again, in last season’s home defeat to Blackburn Rovers, he was culpable after being beaten from a corner by Grant Hanley who scored the match winner.
Even a few weeks ago, De Gea was again criticised in the aftermath of Clint Dempsey’s stoppage time equaliser for Tottenham Hotspur at White Hart Lane.
But some perspective and context is needed when judging the Spanish under-21 international, who cost United £18.9million – a British record transfer fee for a goalkeeper.
The Madrid-born star has come to a brand new country where he did not speak the language and replaced United legend Edwin van der Sar.
The Dutchman was such a calming and assured presence in between the Old Trafford sticks and there have been inevitable teething problems with De Gea.
Even so, De Gea still had the best shot-to-save ratio in the Premier League last season of 77.9%, even better than England number one Joe Hart.
Across town at Manchester City, Hart has certainly not been flawless this season, yet seems to be immune from the same level of criticism De Gea receives.
Just last week he fumbled Southampton striker Rickie Lambert’s shot allowing Steven Davis to score against the Blues in their third-worst league defeat under Roberto Mancini.
This is not an isolated incident either, as he failed to prevent former teammate Adam Johnson’s strike from creeping in during the Boxing Day defeat to Sunderland.
When Hart was at the same stage of his career, he was learning his trade and gaining valuable experience at Birmingham City.
The Spaniard meanwhile has been thrust into playing for one of the world’s biggest clubs, where his every error is magnified and put under intense scrutiny.
De Gea admittedly has flaws – particularly dealing with crosses – but will inevitably be a contender for the Spanish number one jersey in a few years time.
Current Spanish number one, and his counterpart at Real, Iker Casillas, agrees and claimed in 2011 De Gea will ‘pension him off’.
With his Bernabeu heroics a major boost, do not bet against Casillas eventually being proved right – for both La Furia Roja and United.
Image courtesy of YahooUK, with thanks.
Please note: Opinions expressed above are those of the journalist and do not necessarily represent the views of Mancunian Matters.