It is common knowledge that at top clubs—where the pressure is the highest—the number of options in the transfer market that will strengthen the starting eleven is (unsurprisingly) low. Manchester United, among the big and ambitious sides in the Premier League, operate with a narrow base of targets. These get trimmed down even further owing to special circumstances and competition from rivals for the signature.
Since that is the case, it is important for any side—let alone one with aspirations to win domestic and European honors—to keep a hold of their best player(s). This is particularly true when replacing that member is virtually impossible, for no amount of money can buy a replacement that may not exist. Manchester United face a similar situation with their superhuman goalkeeper David De Gea.
De Gea, Mr. Consistency
Now, De Gea has been United’s most consistent performer for the last five years. He’s been part of a team that has won the Premier League, FA Cup, League Cup and the Europa League in the same period. Not only that, but De Gea has been able to achieve this in the club’s most turbulent period. For a goalkeeper to shine so brightly on a side that has collectively underperformed for a bulk of the last three years, this deserves recognition.
The Spaniard received that recognition in the form of multiple Player of the Year awards, and the in-house Sir Matt Busby Player of the Year award, which De Gea has won three times on the bounce in his six-and-a-half years at the club. The only other player to achieve the same feat at United is Cristiano Ronaldo who was sold to Real Madrid in 2009 (for a then world-record fee).
If anything, that shows the caliber of player we are talking about. At Manchester United’s disposal is an asset, both on and off the pitch, that could be leveraged to their advantage.
De Gea, the anchor
Spending over £300 million since his arrival, Mourinho has rebuilt the club’s spine, consisting of Eric Bailly at the back, Pogba in the middle and Lukaku spearheading the attack. But the structure is anchored by one David De Gea between the sticks, whose reputation as Manchester United’s best player has remained intact—has heightened, even, in the last two years of relative success.
In this season’s big games, when the stakes couldn’t get any higher, David De Gea showed once again why he deserves the contract he asks for. Especially at a football club whose financial clout dwarfs the rest in the league and where the 20th-placed team could financially compete with a mid-table side from other European leagues.
Saving Manchester United
Against Liverpool at Anfield, Jose Mourinho’s plan to wear Liverpool down in a low block could have crumbled had it not been for De Gea’s outstretched unorthodox save off Joël Matip from point-blank range. The Spaniard’s supreme concentration and application at the Emirates was key to keep Arsenal at bay despite their 33 attempts on goal.
The 27-year old was the savior in Seville when he denied Luis Muriel from five yards in one of the saves of the season. The Spaniard has been so good this season that Manchester United—despite conceding a higher volume of clear-cut chances than the likes of Tottenham, Liverpool, and Chelsea—have conceded fewer goals.
According to the ‘Expected Goals Against (xGA)‘ metric, United have the second-largest variance (largest in the Premier League) between the number of goals they should normally concede (this often relies on the strength of the model) and the number of goals they actually conceded. If there is a way to quantify something as intangible as a goalkeeper’s contribution to the overall defensive standard of the team, this is it.
All of this makes the news that De Gea is waiting on Manchester United to formally offer a contract extension a bit laughable. Not since Cristiano Ronaldo has United possessed a player who could strengthen every single football team in the continent. They stumbled but did not fall as they picked-up their 19th and 20th league titles in the next four years. Now, five years without a Premier League trophy, Manchester United simply cannot afford to let De Gea slip away. In fact, extending his contract should be the summer’s priority.