Manchester United's search for a goalkeeper finally came to an end after they agreed to terms with Atletico Madrid for the acquisition of David De Gea. He has signed a 5 year contract, and will in all likelihood become United's first choice keeper, as the club ushers in a new era in goal following the retirement of Edwin van der Sar.
I was rather surprised by United's pursuit of De Gea, considering that big names like Manuel Neuer,Maarten Stekelenburg and Hugo Lloris were potentially available. Neuer had also made it clear that he desired to leave Schalke at season's end, but Old Trafford would not be his destination; shattering hopes of United faithful who had hoped to see their club secure the services of the German international. While Stekelenburg seemed like the next best choice, news came out that United were keener on De Gea, who also represents the national team at the Under-21 level.
At just the tender age of 20, the Spaniard has made some big strides for someone who's just getting onto the scene. He just got back from the recently concluded European Under-21 championships where Spain emerged victorious. He also owns a Europa League winner's medal from the 2010 final, starting in goal as Atletico beat Fulham 2-1 in extra time. De Gea will face serious competition from Anders Lindegaard and Tomasz Kuszczak (whom many speculated would leave), but he should be able to hold his own. What remains to be seen is whether De Gea will be "just another one" or the "next great" in a line of goalkeepers that includes names like Alex Stepney, Peter Schmeichel and Edwin van der Sar.
Following the departure of Peter Schmeichel after United's historic treble campaign, the club went through what could be described as a "revolving door" of goalkeepers. Mark Bosnich, Fabien Barthez, Tim Howard and Roy Carroll were all solid, but they weren't around for long. When van der Sar joined the club in the summer of 2005, it seemed that United had found someone who was capable of replacing "The Great Dane". At the time of his signing, van der Sar was already a well established goalkeeper; having been a long time fixture for Ajax, serving lengthy spells at both Juventus andFulham, and was the first choice keeper for the Dutch national team.
With stability at goal, United not only re-established themselves on the domestic front, but also climbed higher heights at the continental level. United has collected at least one trophy in each of the last six seasons, and appeared in three of the last four Champions League finals; while making the semis in four of the last five seasons. Many United fans will never forget that rainy May night in Moscow, when van der Sar parried away a Nicolas Anelka penalty, handing the Red Devils their 3rd European title; forever sealing his legacy at United.
While I’m sure that De Gea hopes to represent his country at the senior level, one can agree that it is very hard to be a good goalkeeper in Spain these days. The current pecking order for the senior national team has Iker Casillas, Victor Valdes and Pepe Reina taking up the available open spots. Since Casillas also doubles as the team captain, and only seems to get better with age, the best advice you can give any goalkeeper who's coming of age around this time, is to be realistic; for it may be a while before their number is called. This may actually prove to be a good thing for De Geabecause he may get some much needed time to develop into an elite goalkeeper that most people are predicting for his future.
As has been the case in seasons past, United will be eyeing more than just the Premier League title in forthcoming campaign. The huge burden of expectation has been placed on De Gea's shoulders, as he could very well be the key to any success the club hopes to enjoy. With a club of battle-hardened veterans by his side, it won't be his burden to bear alone.