David “Van” de Gea can handle the pressure
“Pressure? This is just a football match,” says the great Paraguayan goalkeeper José Luis Chilavert. “When you do not know how to feed your children, that is pressure.” And so when David De Gea, Manchester United’s latest addition, puts on his new shirt for the very first time in a competitive game, he can use this rather-odd advice from a player many young keepers, maybe even himself, aspire to be like. For de Gea, feeding children probably isn’t on his mind – but the quote itself suggests the sort of environment goalkeepers are brought up into; they are the lone stars of an unforgiving world, where levels of expectation is so high that ‘pressure’ is just part of the game.
It would be almost impossible to ask de Gea not to feel any sort of pressure when he does make his debut; and because the fear amongst United fans is his temperament rather than a question of ability – and just how much his general inexperience and naivety will come into play. Granted, he dealt admirably in the recent U21 European Championships which Spain won in convincing fashion but this will certainly be his greatest challenge yet.
Pressure will be there, but how much will it affect him? One person who doesn’t think the Spaniard will be fazed with filling Edwin van der Sar’s gloves is Gareth Nunn, author of the Atlético fansite madridatleticos: “I don’t believe that the pressure will be an issue for him as he’s handled it with Atletico,” says Nunn, an Irish writer based in Madrid. “Just look at his performances in the Europa League Final and Super Cup final in 2010.”
Make no mistake, de Gea is competent. Even at the tender age of 20, there is much reason to be excited about the player who has been compared to compatriot Iker Casillas on several occasions, someone whom himself attracted great interest and was (and still is) critically acclaimed at a similar age. Let’s not forget that de Gea has, potentially, another 20 years at the highest level.
So where does his strengths lie? “His handling is impressive,” Nunn says. “The ball seems to come directly to him.” Crucially, he is renowned is the air, too. “When he jumps for the ball with an opposing player, you can only see one winner.” The keeper, who stands at 6 ft 4, has also attracted attention on social networking sites for having freakishly long fingers which might explain something when Nunn says: “He sometimes seems to be able to reach the impossible and his shot stopping is superb.” And during the U21 tournament in Denmark, he was quite impressive – even saving a penalty en route to the final. “He has great reflexes and a great record on penalties,” adds Nunn.
Despite the many qualities the goalkeeper possesses, fans will have to recognise that the transition may take time. At the very early stages, a goalkeeper’s reputation is fragile, unfairly decided on one moment or game. Nunn is fearful of this: “When he makes a mistake, and he will as we are all human, the press will jump on it and as he is very critical of himself so he might allow it to bother him.” Saying this, he has his weak points. “He can be, at times, hesitant to come off his line and sometimes his timing can be a little suspect,” says Nunn. “And he doesn’t command the defense in a way that Van Der Sar has done.”
Then, when pointing out his flaws, you must remember that he is still only 20 and will continue to develop, maybe eventually fine-tuning his game. Nunn tells me that he has made some “amateurish mistakes” in the past, “but at the end of the day he is young and I believe that all this are part of his learning process.” And the avid Atletico fan, not at all pleased at the departure of such a key player yet understanding, says: “I believe that at United he will be around a more stable environment. Working with top players will be good for him, too.”
David de Gea will need some time adjusting to his new surroundings but Nunn, who was at his farewell press conference earlier today, revealed: “I have heard that United have their coaches learning Spanish and I believe that for someone like De Gea that this will be a very welcomed gesture.” A lot has been spoken about the obvious language barrier which might well have an impact on his game but simple football terminology and the fact that Patrice Evra can speak Spanish will be most beneficial.
De Gea has all the ingredients of a great player. He’s ambitious, committed and is even dating a pop star, but Nunn assures me that he and “Edurne” (no, me neither) are “far from the David and Victoria model.” And is he ready for the so-called fast-paced, attack-minded nature of the Premier League with shots being fired at him continuously? “Well,” says Nunn. “One of his routines at training is dressing with an American baseball mask and having tennis balls pegged at him at a great speed.” That should do the trick.
What these statistics above show – and you can interpret it any which you want – is not so much a reason to criticise Van der Sar after an excellent farewell season but instead to heap praise on de Gea. He, too, enjoyed a solid campaign where he made a total of 88 saves from efforts inside the penalty area, more than any other goalkeeper in La Liga (via OPTA). Granted, the graphic is limited in information but it does give you an indication of where his strengths lie.
And, in his very first press conference as a United player, he stated his desire to ‘emulate’ and ‘even surpass’ Edwin van der Sar, although that was after he spoke highly of the Dutchman. Nunn tells us: “He was nicknamed David Van De Gea by some of his teammates for the resemblance to Van Der Sar.” That’ll do fine, then.