There weren’t many of the 5,000 Manchester United fans who descended on Barcelona earlier this week who were expecting anything but a defeat at the hands of the Catalan club. While the drama against PSG in the previous round meant there was some belief, it was hard for the supporters to be too optimistic. Even before kick off, the thought of Lionel Messi running at Ashley Young was enough to give any red nightmares, and that was without knowing what was about to happen.
Any hope of victory quickly went out of the window when Marcus Rashford blew an early chance to take the lead and Young dithered on the ball to allow Messi to score.
Minutes later the supporters in the top tier at the Nou Camp, looking through perspex and netting, could hardly believe their eyes when the tamest attempt from Messi made it 2-0. Had David de Gea really just allowed the ball slip under his body? What happened there?
Plenty have tried, but few have succeeded…
— Mirror Football (@MirrorFootball) April 16, 2019
“The truth is that it took me a while to celebrate the goal,” Barcelona’s keeper, Ter Stegen, said after the game. “He plays in the same position as me and so I shared his pain.”
And it was painful. Many in the away end, who’d spent the day in the sun drinking and singing, slumped in to their seats. Others responded by desperately chanting, as if their noise could take away the feelings of frustration. And others started mouthing off at the players.
One United supporter was particularly angry, calling De Gea all the names under the sun, claiming he was a fraud, telling him to hurry up and sign for Real Madrid, and, finally, that the club would be better off with Sergio Romero in goal. That was the final straw for one fan who was standing in front of him, who whipped round to remind the angry supporter of all the times that De Gea had bailed United out.
The argument was heated, going back and forth, two drunk people taking their frustration of the disappointing situation United find themselves in out on each other, which resulted in a bit of a scuffle. Not long later, they were shaking hands, both agreeing that it was a massive error from De Gea but that the Spaniard shouldn’t be the target for abuse, given all that he’s done for the club.
Marc-André ter Stegen on David De Gea's mistake: "After the game, I told De Gea that we are all humans and that this (the second goal) could have happened to me as well. The truth is that it took me a while to celebrate that goal, because he shares the same position as me." pic.twitter.com/FX6AaxEPMv
— Squawka News (@SquawkaNews) April 18, 2019
But that argument isn’t settled in the mind of all United fans.
Just days earlier, De pulled off a ridiculous save against West Ham when the scoreline was at 1-1 to ensure that United went on to pick up the much-needed three points. Throughout the season, he has made saves that other goalkeepers couldn’t dream of and only three in the league have made more than him, which tells a story of how weak the defence is in front of him. He’s made 34 more saves than Chelsea’s Kepa Arrizabalaga, 42 more than Liverpool’s Alisson, and more than double the saves that City’s Ederson has made.
While not to take away from the qualities of those goalkeepers, it’s easier to look better when you’re facing nowhere near the amount of shots as other players in your position. The chances of you making errors are minimised when your defence shut down the opposition more frequently. And, for what it’s worth, Alisson is among the goalkeepers that have made more errors that have led to goals than De Gea, despite him having considerably fewer saves to make.
However, De Gea has made more mistakes this season than in previous campaigns, when he has been named Sir Matt Busby player of the year season on season, with the suggestion that his time at Old Trafford is coming to an end.
United supporters have said for some time that they wouldn’t begrudge him the move. After Real Madrid waited until it was too late to secure a deal four years ago, De Gea extended his contract at the club and has given his all. Had the move gone through that summer, or the one following, he’d likely have a few Champions League medals in his collection.
However, maybe now more than just wishing him well and acknowledging he deserves to play for a club that can offer him more honours than United currently can, there is the feeling that it is the best time to cash in on him.
There’s the suggestion that he hasn’t been the same player since the World Cup, where he made some well-documented mistakes and was targeted by Spanish fans and media. If United cling on to him for another year, they will lose him on a free. Is it worth forgoing a transfer fee for him for the sake of one more season, playing as he is?
Many United fans would argue it was. When De Gea plays at his best, he’s the greatest goalkeeper in the world. All goalkeepers make mistakes and the Spaniard has set the bar so high for himself that when he messes up, mountains are made out of molehills.
Sergio Romero is a largely popular figure after he played a key role in United’s Europa League glory in 2017 and always impresses when he’s used in cup competitions, namely against Arsenal and Chelsea this season, or on the rare occasions when De Gea is injured. He’s the best second choice you could hope for, and arguably a decent enough first choice, but playing behind the woeful backline that United currently have in place, the club need someone world class.
If United copy their rivals, Liverpool and Manchester City, and spend a fortune to bring in the highest quality defenders, then the issue of whether De Gea stays or goes is less pertinent. But given their poor recruitment in the years since David Gill was replaced by Ed Woodward, supporters won’t hold their breath.
De Gea has earned the right to make the decision he wants on his future though. He joined the club when he was 20 and he’s now 28. The peak years of his career have been at United. It’s not as if he doesn’t have anything to show for it, having won the league, the FA Cup, the League Cup and the Europa League in his time in Manchester, but it is clear that he would have earned more silverware elsewhere.
The difference now is that there are United fans who aren’t as bothered about him leaving.
Supporters are fickle. If there was the guarantee that United would splash out with what they recouped on a top class goalkeeper, then maybe those fans would be more justified in their thinking, but that is not the case.
If United start next season with Romero in goal, and Ashley Young, Phil Jones and Chris Smalling playing ahead of him, which is a very possible scenario, those supporters will feel like mugs.
Dave saves. He’s saved their club time and again, helping them to a second placed finish last season, among preventing the countless embarrassments they would have suffered if not for him. If he wants to stay, they should welcome him with open arms, if he wants to leave, then so be it. But the grass it very rarely greener on the other side, at least that’s the way it feels at United these days!