In football, a goalkeeper’s job is probably the most difficult one, given he’s under constant scrutiny while standing between the sticks. While one player can complement the other on the outfield, the goalkeeper doesn’t have anyone else to share his responsibility with on the pitch.
And when it comes to a team such as Manchester United, with all their fans spread around the world, the expectations are relatively higher. Even the smallest of mistakes can be examined thoroughly, which in turn affects a goalkeeper’s psyche and makes him succumb to the pressure.
The club’s current number one, David de Gea has been guilty of conceding “silly goals” of late, thus falling victim to the wrath of both the fans and experts. Club legend Roy Keane went on to describe the Spaniard as “the most overrated goalkeeper he has seen in a long time”.
Another club great, Gary Neville was a bit milder in his tone, going on to suggest that the 29-year-old has “got to go back to basics.”
While manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has gone on to defend the player, describing him as “the best goalkeeper in the world,” the pressure is obviously being felt and that has been evident in the increasing number of mistakes David de Gea has been committing since the start of last season.
De Gea’s lacklustre performances have risen the debate as to whether it is time for the Spaniard to give way to the club’s academy graduate, Dean Henderson, who has been in impressive form at Sheffield United this season, catching the attention of experts with his remarkable displays.
However, it is obviously one thing playing as a number one at a club such as Sheffield United, who have just been promoted to the Premier League and it’s completely different turning out week-in, week-out for a club of Manchester United’s stature.
Here, therefore, we are going to discuss why it would be a bad idea for the Red Devils to replace David de Gea with Dean Henderson at Old Trafford at this juncture.
David de Gea’s illustrious career
It is not easy to be the undisputed number one at Old Trafford. Since his move to England back in 2011, following the retirement of Edwin van der Sar, the Spanish international has survived the test of time to remain the first-choice for as many as five managers, including Sir Alex Ferguson, who opted for him, in spite of his lack of experience.
The adaptation process wasn’t in any way easy with most of the criticism being around the player’s lack of physical ability. In spite of being 6 feet 4 inches tall, David de Gea lacked that physical trait quintessential for survival in the league. He weighed just 71 kilos and was often easily overpowered by the opponent striker, leading to goals.
The then-goalkeeping coach Eric Steele described ways in which he worked towards transforming the player.
“One issue with him was that he was just 71 kilos. We worked with him on and off the field to make him more powerful. We changed his lifestyle. He would finish training and want to go home. When I told him to come back in the afternoon he’d ask: ‘Why?’
“We pushed protein drinks on him straight after training. We physically made him drink. We had him in the gym a lot. He hated it. They don’t do the gym in Spain as much. We needed to build his core strength.”
To the credit of David de Gea, he has indeed taken in all the advice that his coaches gave him and excelled in his role to go on and be one of the best custodians in the Premier League. Recognition of his work came in the form of a number of individual awards including four Players’ Player of the Year awards and an equal number of Sir Matt Busby Player of the Year awards.
If Dean Henderson is to replace David de Gea as the number one of the club, he will have huge shoes to fill and the pressure will be on him from the very outset.
While David de Gea got the chance of developing under the towering influence of Sir Alex Ferguson, Henderson won’t have that luxury. In spite of being his student, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is not as influential among the fan base as was the legendary Scot.
We are living in an age when millions are being spent on buying players – even goalkeepers. Chelsea signed Kepa Arrizabalaga from Athletic Bilbao for a £71m fee. Liverpool spent £65m on Alisson Becker.
The chances are therefore high that the over-expectant Manchester United fans will soon run out of patience if Dean Henderson fails to immediately deliver the goods for the club. And if David de Gea leaves the club by then, Solskjaer might as well have to go to the market looking for a star goalkeeper.
The impossibility of David de Gea being the number two
The 29-year-old currently earns £375,000 per-week at Old Trafford and is one of the highest-paid players at the club.
This makes it really difficult for Manchester United to just keep him seated on the bench and play someone with less than half his salary on a regular basis. It also looks highly unlikely that David de Gea will be content being number two.
It would cause discontent among the other two goalkeepers, Sergio Romero and Lee Grant. While Dean Henderson’s return might spell the end of Grant’s stint at the club, Romero will also be forced to rethink his career as he would believe that he would be better off playing as the number one or two at another club instead of being the third choice at Old Trafford.
The situation, as it stands, is precarious because Henderson is obviously one for the future and is a proof of the success of the club’s academy. He is in the middle of his fifth successive loan spell away from the club. He has a contract with the club that runs until the summer of 2022 though they cannot go on extending his contract with assurances about a future at Old Trafford. At 23, Henderson will hope to settle down so that he can concentrate on his game rather than worry about his future.
And therefore Solskjaer will have a job in hand when Henderson finally comes back following the end of his loan spell and sits down to discuss his future.