Why David de Gea will and won’t succeed at Manchester United

David de Gea at Manchester United

It looks like a deal is done. All it needs is for the paperwork to be finalised and Rio Ferdinand to take him on a tour of Manchester’s finest hotspots. David de Gea looks certain to being leaving Atletico Madrid for Manchester United. Sir Alex Ferguson has chosen the young Spaniard as the man to fill the sizeable gloves of Edwin van der Sar and the task of replacing a legend in goals begins again. It’s not always a task Fergie has performed with aplomb.

Despite having what Fergie described as a last-minute ‘wobble’,van der Sar heads off into the sunset. The rumours, speculation and posturing from agents looking to push their clients into the frame can come to an end and we can concentrate on arguably the hottest prospect amongst the emerging talents of the goalkeeping ranks as he makes his way at Old Trafford. For some time now, I’ve been certain that de Gea is good enough to make it at Man Utd. But – there’s always the get-out clause of a ‘but’ – his success at Old Trafford will depend on various intangibles we don’t know enough about at present. Here’s a look at the case for and against a long and successful stint at Old Trafford for de Gea.

Why It Will Work:
Quite simply, de Gea has the raw talent to make it at Old Trafford. He’s very agile, he’s got good hands, he’s generally confident in dealing with the high ball, he’s quick off his line – he’s a really solid all round performer. Making the comparison with van der Sar may seem overly convenient considering the timing, but long before there was talk of a move to the Premier League, the resemblance to the Dutchman in terms of physical build and style was obvious.

There was something rather gangly, lanky and almost rigid about van der Sar. At first glance you’d question if he has the agility to make it as top class goalkeeper, but it didn’t take long before he’d hurl himself across the goal with speed that seems to defy the psychical capabilities of his stature. Combined with that, he had the softness of hands to ensure he gathered almost everything at the first attempt and an uncommon ability to do the simple things with a minimum of fuss or drama. A lot of the same can be said about de Gea. Admittedly, his career in top flight football has been going for less than two seasons as opposed to the two decades of van der Sar, but already in that time he has shown himself to be talented and in time he will hope to achieve the remarkable consistency of his predecessor in the United goal.

What has perhaps impressed my most about the young Spaniard has been his attitude. It would be deeply disingenuous to suggest he’s been flawless since arriving in the Atletico Madrid first team. There have been errors and it’s these moments the critics will highlight as being major weaknesses. In response I would make the following points. Firstly, every goalkeeper will make mistakes and that’s an unavoidable constant. Whether it’s Iker Casillas in a World Cup final or a meaningless five a side with friends, there are going to be those moments when you cringe at the simplicity of an error. Secondly, the frequency of the mistakes de Gea makes is relatively low for an elite goalkeeper of any age and especially low for an elite goalkeeper of his tender years. And – without wanting to entirely shift the blame to someone else – playing behind a defence like Atletico’s last season is likely to leave you more exposed than most.

Even when he has made his mistakes, I’ve been impressed. He recovered well and didn’t inhibit his future decisions. At once, It was cleared out of his mind and he carried on continued to command his penalty area with authority and play like a goalkeeper bubbling with confidence. His response when asked about the relatively colossal transfer fee involved in his move to Manchester United spoke volumes about his character and focus. “The fact that I could become one of the most expensive goalkeepers ever does not interest me. The value that really counts is what you do on the pitch,” he insisted. Placing too much emphasis on the obligatory answers given by footballers in interview situations is dangerous, but I find the focus and determination to be extraordinary for a young man and in terms of his attitude, the Premier League should hold no concerns.

Why It Won’t Work:
If the talent isn’t in doubt, then the questions marks must arise elsewhere. How he handles the intense scrutiny that comes with the territory of being the Man Utd first choice goalkeeper is the main area of concern. The suggestion implicit in that claim is that his temperament is suspect which is hugely unfair on de Gea. I could probably claim to be a closer acquaintance of the Queen than I am to the Spaniard, so I lack any sort of personal insight, but from what I’ve cobbled together from interviews and the dubious accuracy of Google translate de Gea seems to be a young man of uncommon maturity, focus and levelheadedness. It’s speculative, but his career to date paints a picture of a character comfortable in the spotlight. He already has Europa League and European U17 Championship medals to his name and although that won’t compare the pressure that comes with the latter stages of the Champions League or a crucial end of season Premier League game, it’s more than the vast majority of his contemporaries.

Although Atletico are no longer amongst the elite in La Liga, their substantial fanbase means they continue to receive extensive coverage in the pages of the Spanish sports dailies. He’s well accustomed to microphones being thrust into his face and seemingly innocuous comments being twisted and shaped into something more interesting and significantly less factual. The spotlight is nothing new to him, but just how brightly it shines at Old Trafford may take a while to get used to. I have little knowledge of the Spanish sports press, but it would take something remarkable if they could match the vicious vitriol their British counterparts launch in to every time a goalkeeper commits – in their informed opinion – a ‘howler’. In my opinion, the ridicule of Robert Green in the British press following his error at the World Cup was a disgrace to rival some of the most shameful moments in Fleet Street history and my concerns about de Gea succeeding at Manchester United are almost entirely based on the pack of wolves viciousness of the press.

If he makes a couple of errors early on in his Old Trafford career, the labels will start to fly. He’ll be called a flapper, spoken of as a waste of money and tarred with the brush of being another one of Fergie’s ‘continental’ keepers who just doesn’t have the machismo to make it in the man’s world that is Premier League football. Application of the ‘continental’ label would be particularly erroneous as if anything, de Gea is more British in style than the geographically vague categorisation that comes with being from mainland Europe. The accuracy of the labels is something of a red herring anyway, because my point is, for all their struggles with truly understanding the nature of goalkeeping, the British media are experts on establishing consensus, regardless of how true a reflection of reality it is. If they start to bang the drum that de Gea isn’t good enough, it’s only a matter of time before it takes hold with the fans and the pressure builds. Fergie may pride himself on being his own man, but rarely in his entire tenure at Old Trafford has his selection policy differed too greatly from the notions of the fans. He may have occasionally stuck with a player for slightly too long, but – unless out of absolute necessity – it’s rare that he’ll persist with a player that the fans have identified as being sub-standard. de Gea appears to be mentally strong enough to ignore the press, but as a young man in his 20s in a new environment, losing the confidence of a manager who has convinced to him make the trip is another matter.

We wait with immense interest and fans of football and goalkeeping will hope that we see the best of de Gea in coming years.

Van der Sar Holds The Key To Man Utd Victory

One v One – Edwin Van Der Sar v Victor Valdes
Van der Sar v Valdes

Champions League Final. Barcelona. A goalkeeping legend’s last game for the club.
There’s a delightful deja vu about the European Cup decider that will at the very least, give Manchester United fans memories of that night in the Camp Nou twelve years ago. For those who like to link coincidences with fate, the stars may appear to be aligning in favour of the Red Devils, but in truth the result of the game will be decided on 7,000 odd square metres of grass rather than the vast expense of space.

If ever there was an opportunity to go out on an incredible high, Edwin van der Sar has it. Less than a week after collecting the latest Premier League winner’s medal of an astonishingly fruitful Indian Summer to his career, the Dutchman could also be bowing out as a European champion. Whilst we need to be cautious about getting swept up in the fairytale, van der Sar is one of United’s key players – arguably the key – in their attempts to win a fourth European Cup. Hyperbolic as it may seem, he’s coming up against one of the best teams to have played the game and almost certainly he’ll need to produce one of the best performances of his fantastic career if United are to achieve victory.

If there is one area where United are significantly stronger than Barcelona, its in goals. All season long, Alex Ferguson must have watched and cursed the Dutchman’s retirement under his breath. His composure and ability to do the simple things right were a huge part of why Fergie finally achieved his aim of knocking Liverpool of their perch. With his defence not always covering themselves in glory, it was often left to van der Sar to cover for the weaknesses with a well-judged intervention or a commanding claim of a high ball. And then there were the more eye-catching moments such as full stretch saves and breath-taking reflexes. van der Sar has reached his forties, but on current form there’s another half a decade of top level football there if he wants it. It’s hard to estimate just how quickly the body of an elite athlete will deteriorate when age does catch up with a player, but based on his performances, injury-record and appetite for the game, 5 more years may only be an exaggeration of only the very slightest variety. He remains one of the best in the world and the importance of his contributions are only highlighted when looking at the player he’ll indirectly be opposing at Wembley.

At times Victor Valdes gets criticised for the ‘sin’ of apparently not having much to do. The way Barcelona take a near monopoly on the ball and rarely seem to be doing anything other than create whirlwinds of wonderful attacking play seems to have given rise to the view that Valdes isn’t especially good and Pepe Guardiola could essentially name a scarecrow in goals with little adverse effect. There is some truth in the under-employment notion. I look back and my notes and very often there’s a white space beside his name due to the absence of any significant work for him to do. That doesn’t make him useless however. Valdes is a good keeper and as little as he may have to do in the numerous romps that Barca seem to manage, he has a set of skills suited to the demands of the role. He’s generally a brave, very athletic and commanding goalkeeper who is quick to close down opponents, but his greatest talent may well be his ability to concentrate – not only in terms of making saves, but in the more general sense of watching how play develops and always being alert to the needs of his defence – whether its to make a stunning save or being available to take a backpass.

That said, Valdes clearly has the capacity to make a mistake. At the Emirates, a poor piece of positioning allowed Robin van Persie to hammer in a goal that ultimately didn’t cost Barcelona, but made it a more uncomfortable passage. Equally, in the second leg, I recall Barcelona utterly dominated the second half, but Nicklas Bendtner was presented with a glorious chance to send Arsenal through. In the end, it was a poor touch that snuffed out the move, but Valdes – in conjunction with Mascherano – made life as difficult as possible for the Dane. A slight daydream or moment of hesitation from Valdes could have given Bendtner the space he required to finish and knock the Catalans out of the tournament.

Looking back at the 2009 final, the early stages of Valdes’ performance highlight the need for composure and an ability to do the basics right when it matters. In the first seven seconds, Valdes gives United a throw-in in an advanced position courtesy of a misplaced pass and about a minute later, the English side have worked themselves into a promising free-kick position. Cristiano Ronaldo hit it relatively well, but in reality it was a shot straight at Valdes which he couldn’t gather and somehow United failed to score. To be fair to Valdes it did bounce before in front of him and take one of the more erratic trajectories Ronaldo managed to achieved with his woefully over-rated free kick taking, but goalkeepers wanting to be considered amongst the elite in their profession need to deal with them in the overwhelming majority of cases. Games, ties and Champions League runs turn on such moments and had United snapped up the gift they were presented with, the pattern – and quite possibly the result – of the game could easily have been different. At the other end van Der Sar did everything that was asked at him and his stops not only prevented it from being a cakewalk for Barca, but gave United a punchers chance of taking the game.

I also wonder if his defence fully trust Valdes. I’ve seen him get involved in mix-ups with his defenders who at times seem anxious not to have to resort to him (case and point would be this goal against Levante from a couple of weeks ago – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xe2-ACui1hk). The frequency of misunderstandings may have a lot to do with the difficulty in communicating in the atmosphere of the colossal Camp Nou, but it seems to be an issue. Maybe it’s trust, more likely it’s just a breakdown in communication – either way, they afford too much of it in the Champions League final.

It’s a true goalkeeping great versus a good goalkeeper. Where van der Sar is strong, Valdes sometimes struggles. Barcelona may well have the talent to render the discrepancy null and void, but the stage might be set for van der Sar to make it count.

The Spurs Goalkeeper Hunt Begins

With Gomes having dropped his team in it once too often, it would be a big surprise not to see him leave White Hart Lane over the summer. Here’s a look at some of the candidates in the frame to replace him.

Ben Foster - Tottenham Goalkeeper?
Ben Foster
‘Your career in Hollywood is over’ is what comes to mind when summarising Foster’s career at Old Trafford. Having been hyped through the roof for his performances on loan at Watford, when it came to the big stage, Foster seemed to have too much on his plate and his seemed to blow his audition. At any stage in a player’s career the United job is one that comes with pressure, expectation and unimaginable levels of scrutiny. Having been shown the door at Old Trafford, you would have doubted if Foster would ever be considered for one of the league’s bigger teams, but the rehabilitation of his reputation at Birmingham has gone so well that he must feature on the wish-list for sides aspiring for league titles and Champions League places. With England duty off the agenda for the time being he’s an even more attractive prospect and if he continues to improve his consistency, could solve Spurs’ goalkeeping problems for the guts of the next decade.

Shay Given - Spurs Goalkeeper?
Shay Given
With Harry’s reputation for finding a bargain, it’s virtually impossible to imagine that Given is not on his radar. After finding out that the two way ‘competition’ for the goalkeeping duties at Man City was in fact a closed shop in favour of Joe Hart, the Irishman must surely be desperate to leave. Considering his age and increasing proneness to injury, it’s a slight risk, but the outlay for Tottenham should be minimal and it’s a move that could pay off handsomely. Prior to being unfairly being assigned to bench-warming duties at City, Given was playing very well. With the exception of international football and the odd Europa League outing, this season has been one of inactivity for Given and it remains to be seen if he can recapture his form. There’s no reason to think he won’t, but age catches up with all of us and the last 12 months my have aged him more than we’ve anticipated. He’s still a risk worth taking and Harry’s no stranger to taking a gamble.

Scott Loach - Tottenham Goalkeeper?
Scott Loach
The national side’s struggles to find a reliable goalkeeper has thrust Loach into the conscious of the typical football fan earlier than if probably fair on him. There’s no doubting his natural ability, but at the age of 22, asking him to step up to one of the Premier League’s most high pressure jobs will test his temperament almost more than his talent. He still needs room to make mistakes and build up experience. Having made around 150 first team appearances, that attitude may come across as overly cautious, but I’ve lost count of the number of young English goalkeepers who are exposed to the glare of a particularly savage sports media prematurely and never fully regain their confidence. Playing game is one way of gaining experience, but playing under the weight of expectation and pressure is still something he hasn’t been exposed to too often. Counting against a move is the unwritten rule of the ‘premium’ attached to signing young English players. As much as he rails against his wheeler dealer reputation, Harry has a fondness for pulling one out of the bag and the money Redknapp will be asked to pay for Loach may a little too close to his real market value for Harry’s liking. At some stage, Loach will get his chance to step up into the top rung of goalkeepers, but this summer may be too soon to be making that move.

Diego Lopez
Diego Lopez
Replacing Gomes with Lopez would be a bold move. Lopez is good enough to start for the vast majority of top international sides, but such is the depth of talent within the Spanish goalkeeping ranks, he’s roughly 4th or 5th choice. It’s more than lazy journalism to make the comparison between Gomes and Lopez. Both are tall, bulky men blessed with seemingly physically impossible agility. They’re capable of getting across the goal in an instant, but there is a lingering doubt about his handling. To be fair to Lopez, his handling may be perfectly fine, but he doesn’t tend to use it a lot and when I have seen it in action, it’s been on the jittery side of assured. When given the chance, he’ll parry or punch and although that’s not necessarily a problem, it doesn’t tend to go down well with certain fans and ill-informed pundits in the media. Sadly they go a long way to dictating public opinion and on the back of Gomes, Spurs will need someone who’s more obviously convincing. It’s as unfair as it is geographically inaccurate, but also counting against him will be the fact he’ll get lumped into the same ‘continental’ category that’s associated with Gomes. He doesn’t suffer from the same frequency of ‘rush of blood to the head’ moments that afflicts Gomes, but it has happened on occasion. He won’t come cheap and Harry may decide to give him a skip.

Paul Robinson
Paul Robinson
A quick look at their squad list tells you Tottenham have few problems with welcoming back former players. ‘Once you leave, you always go back’ seems to be the mantra amongst those departing the club. The Robinson that Spurs would be getting now is a much improved version of the one they let go in 2008. The stats from his time at White Hart Lane don’t make pretty reading, but in his defence he was playing behind a defence with an almost comic disdain for defending set pieces. Since retiring from international duty at the start of the season, Robinson has concentrated on his club duties with tremendous results. He always had natural agility in his locker, but made mistakes due to a lack of focus. For whatever reason (I’d suggest an absence of fatigue), turning his back on England duty has improved his reliability. The frequency of mistakes has decreased and his handling is tidier than ever. Plus, he looks like he’s enjoying himself. From Tottenham’s purely selfish point of view, a Blackburn relegation and an Ewood Park firesale wouldn’t his hurt availability.

Goalkeeper World Rankings

Best Goalkeeper In The World Rankings – May 2011

Goalkeeper Rankings
1. (1) Iker Casillas (Real Madrid and Spain)
2. (4) Edwin Van Der Sar (Man Utd)
3. (3) Gigi Buffon (Juventus and Italy)
4. (5) Pepe Reina (Liverpool and Spain)
5. (2) Petr Cech (Chelsea and Czech Rep.)
6. (6) Victor Valdes (Barcelona and Spain)
7. (7) Hugo Lloris (Lyon and France)
8. (10) Manuel Neuer (Schalke and Germany)
9. (9) David de Gea (Atletico Madrid)
10. (8) Joe Hart (Man City and England)

Goalkeeper World Rankings

So there’s a deal done. The successor has been identified and the dotted line has been signed. You didn’t have to squint too tightly to read between the lines to see what Fergie was getting at. Whilst his team-mates had been begging Edwin van der Sar to reconsider his retirement plans, Sir Alex Ferguson responded like a man who has already bought the gold watch and arranged the catering for the retirement shindig. ‘Go away and enjoy your life, I’ve got my plans in place’ was the gist of what Ferguson was saying and such was the solemnity and unambiguity of his statements, that it was clear if he doesn’t have a replacement already secured, the process is at an advanced stage.

Having reached his forties still capable of excelling at the highest level, the calls for van der Sar to stay on are understandable. For much of this season I was worried that my assessment of the Dutchman’s performances was being coloured by over-sentimentality. Knowing we wouldn’t be seeing him for much longer, the temptation to eulogise decent performances into amazing displays of athleticism is always there, but van der Sar has been so utterly understated and reliable, the praise is warranted. He hasn’t made string of breath-taking saves (although to his credit, he still maintains the agility to do so), but his handling has generally been flawless, his command of his penalty area is supreme and his calmness has diffused throughout a defence that can do with all the reassurance it can get. As his long career reaches its final few games, van der Sar remains one of the best in the world and will be going out on a high. Just how much silverware is involved with this high will surely depend on how van der Sar maintains his level of performance throughout the month of May.

As enjoyable as van der Sar’s performances has been, there’s no doubt who remains number one in the world. Real Madrid didn’t come out of the El Classico series with huge credit, but again Iker Casillas did little wrong. He remains the world’s best and although there have been a sprinkling of mistakes in his performances, he retains a remarkably capacity to recover – both in the short-term sense of making a secondary save to cover for an initial mistake and in the long-term sense of showing mental strength when things don’t go quite right.

It’s been a controversial stance for some time (namely with Shaka Hislop who disagrees whole-heartedly!), but I still rate Gigi Buffon very highly. Throughout his injury troubles I felt it unfair to demote him down the rankings based purely on absence and I maintain that position. When he plays, he retains his talent and his form has been an important part in keeping Juventus in the hunt for an unlikely Champions League place. With Liverpool enjoying a resurgence, Pepe Reina is looking as sharp as ever. When things weren’t going well for the Reds, Reina wasn’t to blame, but playing in a more confident team has rubbed off on him. Petr Cech takes a small drop, mainly because of a couple of mistakes for Chelsea and the Czech Republic in the last few months. Overall however, he has still had an outstanding season and without him Chelsea would be struggling for European football next season, let alone a Champions League spot or even the title challenge they have somehow managed to string together. Joe Hart has dropped a few places, but that’s based on mistakes earlier in the year. It’s been a while since I’ve updated the rankings and although he has been better and still capable of producing amazing saves, those mistakes stick in the memory.

Manuel Neuer is the flavour of the month in goalkeeping circles lately. His performance in the first leg of the Champions League semi-final with Manchester United rightly earned the plaudits, but clearly the pundits who heaped the praise on him haven’t been watching him much in the Bundesliga where he has been putting in similar performances for much of the season. He hasn’t rocketed to the top of the rankings for a couple of reasons. Firstly, I try to make these rankings less knee-jerk and more long-term and as such, my views are based on watching over a reasonably extended period of time. Secondly, I still worry Neuer is more accident prone than is ideal. Every goalkeeper is allowed an occasional mistake, but there is a suspicion that for all his amazing saves, the Bayern bound goalkeeper still suffers from blips on too frequent a basis. In his defence, since first becoming aware of him a few years ago, the mistakes have been reduced dramatically and the sheer volume of work required of him behind the leaky Schalke defence means he’s in the firing line more often than some of his contemporaries on the list.

Although yet to make his debut on the list, Wojiech Szczesny deserves a mention for responding so well after disappointment in the Carling Cup final followed by injury in the Champions League. Criticism of him for going off at the Camp Nou was nonsensical as no-one truly knows the level of pain someone else his experiencing. Sure some people may have experienced dislocated fingers with little discomfort, but Szczesny’s personal physiology and medical history mean it’s may not be the same for him. He looks reliable and assured and Arsene Wenger looks to have solved his goalkeeping issues.

The Man Utd Goalkeeper Hunt

Man Utd Goalkeeper Hunt
The latest Dutchman heading for the United goal?

We know who it won’t be, but are we any closer to knowing who it will be?
On the pitch, it was a good week for Manchester United, but off the field, the hunt for Edwin van der Sar’s successor in the United goal descended into a muddy version of clarity.

Manuel Neuer’s performance in the first leg of Schalke’s Champions League semi-final was a perfect audition for the Old Trafford role – except for one crucial detail. It wasn’t an audition. Sir Alex Ferguson may have been impressed with Neuer’s stunning (and Schmeichel-esque) performance, but the German’s heart belongs to someone else. The current first choice of the Mannschaft doesn’t want to leave Germany and has stated his determination to win at least one Bundesliga title before even considering a move abroad. And he means it. His comments don’t seem to be laced with the ‘I’m not available, but chase me with a big bag of cash and we’ll see what happens’ subtext that often seems to accompany the well rehearsed soundbites. It looks like he his betrothed to Bayern Munich and although negotiations are yet to begin, it looks like it’s only the size of the dowry that needs to be finalised. There was talk of Sir Alex hijacking the arrangement in a similar manner to how he snapped Dimitar Berbatov from the jaws of Man City a couple of years ago, but in this case Neuer both looks and sounds like a man heading for Bavaria.

It was also a week in which Pepe Reina confirmed he would be staying at Liverpool – until the point the Spaniard can decipher if the latest dawn is of the ‘genuine’ or the ‘false’ variety. In future, Reina’s fiercely competitive nature may dictate a move to Old Trafford is required, but so far he has been impressed by the Dalglish revolution and is apparently willing to give King Kenny another season of his time. Talk of Gigi Buffon coming to the Premier League was aimed at getting an improved deal at Juventus and makes Man Utd an unlikely destination.

So where does that leave us? I’ve said before, that after a mixed record in signing goalkeepers, Fergie will almost certainly be looking for someone with the following profile:
(1) late 20s+
(2) Champions League and/or international experience
(3) not injury prone

The notion of Fergie pleading with Van der Sar to stay on for another season is something that I initially dismissed out of hand, but as time goes by and a standout candidate fails to emerge, it’s impossible to fully discount. Granted, it’s hard to imagine Fergie pleading with anyone for anything, but even in his 40s van der Sar has been exceptional and the reassurance he provides has been of great benefit to a United defence that has looked vulnerable at times this season. By all accounts Mrs. van der Sar has recovered from her health scare last Christmas and it could be worth Fergie’s while to test the Dutchman’s resolve to retire.

For my money, Maarten Stekelenburg looks the most likely candidate, but I’m concerned I’m making too much of a connection between Stekelenburg being Van der Sar’s replacement at international level and his chances of being Van der Sar’s replacement at club level. In the transfer market, placing too much faith in form shown in the Dutch league is fraught with danger (Kezman) so should we not think the same way when it comes to goalkeepers? Aside from 4 or 5 top teams, the league is filled with average opposition so can Fergie really be certain he’s getting proven performer at the highest level? Of course Stekelenburg did make it all the way to a World Cup Final with the Netherlands and that’s the highest level of competition you can get, right? Well yes, but there is a but. It sounds almost insane to say it, but the cumulative pressure and standards expected throughout the course of 50 odd games in the typical Manchester United season are going to be far in excess of that experienced in the seven games of a World Cup.

In terms of talent, David De Gea could be an instant hit at Old Trafford, but his age doesn’t fit what Sir Alex is likely to look for. Goalkeeping coach, Eric Steele is said to be a big fan (and scurrilously rumoured to be learning Spanish for De Gea’s arrival), but De Gea’s lack of experience in the Champions League and the spot-light in general do cast doubt about the likelihood of a move. All reports suggest that Atletico youngster is a very level-headed and mature 20 year old, but that’s no guarantee that he’ll settle in England or be able to handle the intense scrutiny that comes with the Old Trafford keeping job. Reports from Spain suggest Atletico Madrid have offered De Gea a contract with a view to ending the speculation once and for all. If he wants to go, he can go, but if he wants to stay, it ends now and he knuckles down for the next few years. With age on his side, my inkling is De Gea may just sit tight for a couple more years, build his reputation and eventually have his pick of clubs and salaries – at which point he may only be the ripe old age of 23 or 24.

I think there’s a joker in the pack, but I can’t figure out who it might be. Hugo Lloris (almost) perfectly fits the bill, but doesn’t appear to have been scouted too heavily. On a similarly Gallic theme, Steve Mandanda performed well when Marseille and Man Utd met in the Last 16 of the Champions League. He has had a decent amount of experience and is exceptionally agile, but his handling may not be up to scratch for the Premier League. Too often he needs a couple of attempts to gather then ball and that’s unlikely to have gone unnoticed by Ferguson and Steele. Inter Milan’s Julio Cesar ticks all three boxes, but I think his reluctance to catch the ball means trouble. There’s nothing wrong with a goalkeeper punching or parrying when the situation requires, but the sheer number of times the Brazilian opts against the catch will leave him open to ridicule from the media and it won’t be long before the dreaded ‘calamity’ label is applied irrevocably to his shoulders. In terms of talent, Shay Given must still be worthy of consideration, but the injury category has become a concern of late. For much of his career, the Irishman seemed to have a charmed life in terms of fitness, but in the last few seasons he has picked up some major knocks that have ruled him out of action for months at a time. Craig Gordon has been linked in the past, but his familiarity with the Sunderland physio’s table will count against him. Sebastian Frey is a little considered outsider, but again injury may be a worry. He hasn’t played since November and won’t until the new season at the earliest. In terms of age and experience, he might be in the frame and an added bonus (in Sir Alex’s eyes at least) would be his rejection of international football. I’ve heard the name of Fernando Muslera being mentioned and I would suggest if Fergie does sign him, it’s part of a well-timed revenge on the Glazer family and Fergie’s retirement will arrive seconds later. Poor decision maker, a flapper at crosses extraordinaire and almost totally unsuitable to the Premier League, the Uruguayan’s stunning agility catches the eye, but I think he would get savaged in England and furthermore, Fergie knows it.

As the date for Van der Sar to hang up his gloves comes ever closer, the hunt for a replacement is looking less than finalised. Maybe Fergie could do worse than trying to hang on to his Dutch of class.

If you think I’ve missed out on any potential United recruits, let me know in the comments section.

Ex. Man Utd Keeper, Roberto Has A Nightmare Moment

On a night when the PFA celebrate footballing excellence throughout the season – or roughly three weeks in the case of Gareth Bale – it seems only fitting that the Ministry Of Glove do the exact opposite and salute a moment of sheer calamity. I make it a point of not ridiculing any person brave enough to be a goalkeeper for any mistakes that might occur during the course of the bizzare collection of tasks required of the custodian, but it was impossible not to have a small chuckle at this.

If you’ve got a very precise memory, you may remember Ricardo from a brief spell at Manchester United. It was so brief in fact that anyone who has ever bought an overpriced replica jersey has spent significantly more time in a United shirt than he did. Now approaching the age of 40, he remains first choice for Osasuna in La Liga – although that may change after this. With the score at 1-1 with a couple of minutes to go in one of the lesser known, but equally passionate Basque derbies, he did this – handling a goal and all three points to Athletic Bilbao.

CHECK OUT RICARDO’S MOMENT OF MADNESS HERE (about 2 minutes in)

The Manchester United Goalkeeper Hunt Continues

Paper talk over the last couple of days have attempted to shed more light on who’s likely to replace Edwin van der Sar at Old Trafford, but if anything, it’s only highlighted how messy the picture has become. Here’s the latest attempt to cut through the double-talk and go through Sir Alex Ferguson’s likely wishlist.

Pepe Reina
1. Pepe Reina
As unthinkable as it might be to Liverpool fans, Reina joining their most despised of rivals isn’t as far-fetched as some may think. The Spaniard’s fiercely competitive nature is evident on the pitch and he wants to win trophies. Fernando Torres’ conclusion that aspirations of silverware were best served by moving elsewhere will have got Reina thinking about something similar. A move back to Spain has been spoken about, but only to Atletico Madrid where his father played for much of the 70s, even reaching a European Cup final. His contemporaries at Barcelona and Real Madrid would seem to have those plum goalkeeping berths locked down and the move to the Mattress Makers is more likely to happen towards the end of his career.

Not for the first time in his life, Liverpool’s recent upturn in form won’t be to the satisfaction of Sir Alex, but on this occasion it has nothing to do with rivaling the Red Devils for silverware or honours. The Anfield club are about as far away from a title challenge as at any point during Fergie’s reign at Old Trafford, but their resurgence under Kenny Dalglish may convince Reina to hang tight for at least another season. Ferguson and his goalkeeping coach, Eric Steele are said to be big fans of Reina, but with improved form and the promise of further investment over the summer, extending his stay on Merseyside could be worth the risk. Time would appear to be on his side. He’ll only turn 29 towards the start of next season and such is the peak physical condition that Reina keeps himself in, it’d wouldn’t be a surprise to be talking about him in 2020. Reina has the option of having his cake and eating it by giving Liverpool another chance to return to the top of the English game. If it doesn’t work out and Man Utd are still the dominant force in the Premier League in a couple of years, he could move then and still enjoy an extended stay at Old Trafford.

David de Gea
2. David de Gea
With the Reina option looking less and less likely with each improvement King Kenny gets from his team, Man Utd have been exploring the possibly of raiding the next generation of Spanish custodian. David de Gea is at the forefront of the generation after reportedly impressing Steele on several scouting missions in the recent past. Purely of terms of talent, de Gea has exactly what it takes to succeed in the Premier League right now and with the potential for further improvement he could excel for Man Utd. At the age of 20, he’s a hugely exciting prospect, but his youth is something of a double-edged sword for Man Utd.

On one hand, snapping up a player barely out of his teens who has a proven track record of success has the potential – if the best of the dream-like best scenario’s comes to pass – of sorting out the Man Utd goalkeeping position for a decade and possibly more. On the other, de Gea is reported to have misgivings about moving abroad quite so young. De Gea seems to be a young man of uncommon maturity and attitude, but the option of staying with Atletico to develop further prior to a big move is said to be tempting him into staying put for the next couple of years.

One concern may centre around the step up in expectations. In terms of media attention and pressure, his time at Atletico Madrid will have given de Gea at least an idea of what he will go through in the spotlight of Old Trafford, but the expectations at each club are vastly different. With the team in front of him regularly misfiring, on the occasions when de Gea has made mistakes, the consequences haven’t been too grave. That won’t be the case at Man Utd where – regardless of the opposition or the competition – he’ll play two high pressure games a week with virtually zero margin for error. With silverware expected, allowing the goal that turns three points into just one and could in turn prove costly at the end of the season will not be tolerated and de Gea has to decide if he’s ready for that level of scrutiny at this early stage of his career.

Manuel Neuer
3. Manuel Neuer
Neuer would be a great option for Man Utd, but he has made noises about preferring to stay in Germany and wanting to win a Bundesliga title. The interest from Bayern Munich would give him an option to complete both of these stated goals.

There had been hope that Thomas Kraft would be the long-term solution to Bayern’s goalkeeping issues, but for all his potential, he may not be the immediate remedy that the Bavarian club require. Attention has been turned back to Neuer and for good reason. He has always been highly rated, but over the last season and a half, the Schalke keeper has come along in leaps and bounds. Mistakes have been less and less common and his has become a more commanding presence around the penalty area. He is strikingly similar to the great Peter Schmeichel in terms of style and pure effectiveness and the experience he has amassed in six years of first team football make him vastly more tried and tested than the typical 25 year old. He has the talent to make a big impression at Old Trafford, but the signs are he’s staying put in the Bundesliga for the time-being. With age on his side, a move may again be discussed in the future, but for the moment – barring a change of heart or bags of money – it’s looking unlikely.

Maarten Stekelenburg
4. Maarten Stekelenburg
In the midst of all the speculation, Stekelenburg has remained a constant in the background. Rumours have trickled through consistently and the lack of agitation for a move and comment from Stekelenburg hints at a man confident in the knowledge a deal has been struck and where he’ll be playing his football next season. The Dutch connection makes the narrative of this particular option all the more appealing, but rest assured it has little influence on how Ferguson and Steele are assessing their options – Stekelenburg is being considered simply because he’s good enough to be considered and similarities with the departing Van der Sar are purely coincidental.

Technically good and physically robust, the current first choice for the Oranje would be well suited to the challenges of the Premier League and he comes across as the type of level-headed personality who will take the move to Old Trafford in his stride.

Gianluigi Buffon
5. Gianluigi Buffon
I’d be stunned if Buffon turns up at Old Trafford next season, mainly because it’s his agent who has been doing most of the talking about a possible move to England and purely on a personal basis, moving to the Premier League wouldn’t make a whole lot of sense. Having spent his entire career in Serie A, moving to England would require uprooting a young family to a completely new culture for a few years. Otherwise he could try the commute, but that’s only likely to meet with disapproval from Sir Alex and eventual homesickness. It would appear that Buffon’s agent has looked at the only two major European clubs in need of a top quality goalkeeper in an attempt to frighten Juventus into offering him a much improved contract. My guess would be Buffon will get his contract, stay in Turin for the next couple of years before moving to one of the Gulf states for one last lucrative pay-day.

The financial situation at Juve is often cited as a reason why Buffon’s departure is a possibility, but how much is a 33 year old – admittedly top class – increasingly injury-prone goalkeeper likely to fetch in a depressed transfer market? Whatever figure you arrive it, it’s unlikely to be enough to chase the financial gloom away. The benefits of hanging on to Buffon almost certainly outweigh the benefits of selling him on. Possibly adding fuel to the rumour is a fractious relationship with head coach, Luigi Del Neri. After recovering from the injury sustained at the World Cup, Buffon declared himself fit and ready to return for Juventus. Rather than immediately reinstate Italy’s number 1, Del Neri kept faith with Marco Storari for an extended period of time and that didn’t go down well with Buffon. As he was one of Del Neri’s first signings when taking charge last summer, there may have been an element of politics involved in the manager’s decision to stick with Storari, but whatever the reason, it’s judgment like that which makes it likely Buffon will be at Juventus next season whilst Del Neri will not.

The ‘all things considered’ most likely options list
1. Stekelenburg
2. De Gea
3. Reina
4. Neuer
5. Buffon