Manchester United activated the clause in David de Gea’s contract this week, which sees him tied to the club until 2020.
The club may be setting themselves up for a similar scenario as the 2015 transfer window when, with just a year remaining on the goalkeeper’s deal, they were backed in to a corner to sell him then rather than losing him for free a year later.
United fans can hardly believe their luck that they’ve managed to hold on to the goalkeeper past his 28th birthday. When he signed for the club as a teenager it was predictable then that he would go on to be the best in the world and catch the attention of Real Madrid sooner rather than later.
De Gea wanted that move four years ago and he won’t need to be reminded that he may very well have three Champions League winners medals sitting in his Madrid home if he had.
Yet the player has never spoken as someone with regrets, acutely aware of the difference in treatment he would receive in Spain compared to England, from the fans and media alike.
“In England, I have a great affection and respect that I do not notice so much here,” De Gea said in March, ahead of a friendly against Argentina.
He went to the World Cup, had a nightmare in the opening game against Portugal, and he was torn apart by the Spanish media. The fans were less than impressed too, even though Spain went on to draw the game.
“I don’t see much that they support me from Spain,” De Gea said after the game. “I would have liked that they defend me more in a difficult moment in my life. It’s a mistake. We put on our gloves and go out into the field, we know how difficult it is.
“I count on the support of the coach and my colleagues to continue. I will stay calm. I’ll keep training and try to do things right. I haven’t killed anyone.”
If he needed any reminding over how unforgiving the fans at the Bernabeu can be, even booing and jeering Cristiano Ronaldo in the past, despite the trophies he’s almost single-handedly delivered them at times. Thibaut Courtois’ time in Madrid has made it all the more apparent.
Having failed to shine in the way he did at Chelsea, Real Madrid fans are already calling for Keylor Navas to be reinstated as their no.1.
Their 3-0 defeat against Eibar last weekend, their first ever defeat against the side who were in the bottom half of the table ahead of kick-off, has only made matters worse for the Belgian goalkeeper.
At United, De Gea’s mistakes are rare, but when they occur, are met with nothing but support from the Old Trafford crowd.
His name is chanted every week, he is greeted warmly by the Stretford End ahead of every game, and he has no doubt of how well loved he is in Manchester.
In the summer of 2015, Louis van Gaal left De Gea out of the team when it appeared as though his transfer to Real Madrid was going to happen. When it fell through, De Gea was immediately drafted back in to the team and made his first appearance of the season in a victory against Liverpool.
He might have expected a bit of stick, or at the very least apathy, after showing he had been ready to leave the club. Instead, he received a standing ovation from the stadium, all singing his name.
“The first game I returned, after all that had happened, was impressive,” he later reflecting, having signed the deal that is now close to expiring. “The way Old Trafford received me, it made the hairs stand up. It’s very difficult to describe what that day was like. I really appreciate it.”
You’d imagine there’s only so far that sort of goodwill can go though.
Would he be prepared to extend his current contract past the end of next season or should United supporters prepare themselves for his departure in the summer?
Jose Mourinho seems to believe that the goalkeeper has no intention of leaving.
“He wants to stay, and of course I want him to stay,” Mourinho said after United confirmed their place in the next round of the Champions League on Tuesday night.
“Manchester United needs the best players in the world. If we want to be Manchester United, we need the best players in the world. We have the best goalkeeper in the world. Obviously, the manager wants him to stay and the board wants him to stay.
“David wants to stay and his agent wants him to do what the player wants – he is not the kind of agent that is manipulative, like others and tries to influence the player. His agent will let him think and decide by himself, so I think the point is just to agree the contract that the club wants to give and the player wants to accept. That is just my feeling, but I think they (the talks) are going to finish well.”
Mourinho shares the same agent as De Gea, Jorge Mendes, so you would think he wouldn’t be misinformed.
Of course, Mourinho is always very calculated in what he is saying, so there is always the possibility he’s making statements like this to put pressure on the goalkeeper to stay put.
However, if Mourinho is right, United supporters will hardly be able to believe their luck, although it isn’t unimaginable that De Gea is in no rush to leave.
At 28, he still has plenty of years left as a goalkeeper.
Edwin Van der Sar was 40 when he retired at United, having won four league titles and one Champions League in the final five years of his career.
Goalkeepers are able to play at the top for much longer than outfield players.
It’s also worth remembering that De Gea has won everything apart from the Champions League at United.
If he envisages playing at a high level for the next decade or more, he has plenty of time to sign for a club who can give him the missing medal in his collection, if United prove unable to do that for him.
But, you do have to wonder how much Mourinho’s future plays in to De Gea’s decision making.
There’s nothing to suggest there’s any bad blood between the two, but the goalkeeper is likely feeling what everyone else is, that Mourinho’s best years are behind him.
While De Gea still has plenty of years left in him, that doesn’t mean he would be prepared to simply waste time playing for United if he has no belief that the current manager can deliver silverware.
It wouldn’t even be worth polling the fans on who they would rather keep out of the two.