at the Union Buildings in Pretoria
Dublin – Manchester United's players have demanded that their young goalkeeper David de Gea be given time and patience to succeed at their club, after the 22-year-old's huge role in securing a draw at the Bernabeu left Spain salivating over the idea of him returning to La Liga.
Michael Carrick, Phil Jones and Ryan Giggs all insisted that De Gea was coping with the high level of scrutiny that comes with being a Manchester United goalkeeper, with Giggs observing after the 1-1 draw against Real Madrid that he was being persecuted in a way that a young player in another position would not be.
“Young outfield players can be brought in and out of a team. But usually if the keeper makes a mistake it's a goal,” said Giggs. “A centre-forward has to score goals but probably nothing will be said about missed chances. I think there's a lot of pressure in every position but the centre-forwards are supposed to score goals and the keepers are supposed to keep it out of the net.”
Sir Alex Ferguson moved for De Gea from Atletico Madrid two summers ago, motivated by having allowed a young Petr Cech, from Rennes, and an even younger Joe Hart, at Shrewsbury Town, to get away because he did not then trust youthful keepers. But the prospects of a summer return to Madrid, where his girlfriend still lives, were enhanced by a display on Wednesday night which the Spanish daily Marca on Thursday described as “San De Gea's night” – the “San” moniker meaning “saint” and usually reserved for “San Iker Casillas”. With the national hero Casillas out of favour with Jose Mourinho before he broke a bone in his hand, Diario AS said of the Madrid-born keeper De Gea: “He was the main reason why United left with such a favourable result.”
Speaking to Madrid-based journalists after the game De Gea said: “I threw myself at everything. They scored a good goal against me but it only beat me by the slightest margin.”
The goalkeeper, represented by Jorge Mendes, has been linked with La Liga's top three sides. Barcelona need a replacement for Victor Valdes whose contract – which he has said he will not renew – runs out at the end of next season. Atletico Madrid will lose Chelsea loanee Thibaut Courtois at the end of the season and Real Madrid have been destabilised by Casillas and Mourinho's falling out, with the World Cup winner dropped by his coach.
Ferguson's players added to Giggs' support for a player whose suitability for the United job has been questioned in Britain. “It's never nice when people question you but it's the nature of a club like this,” Carrick said. “You are always getting questioned and criticised and that's just how it is and you've got to deal with it. He deals with it. That's fine. He's a top keeper and he's only going to get better. To be at such a young age at this club and have so much on your shoulders it shows what a player he is.
“Coming back home to Madrid as well. It builds a bit of extra spotlight on him. To come here, a place like this, where there's no bigger pressure than this stage of the Champions League. He kept us in the game at times.” Phil Jones said De Gea “deserves every credit he gets. He's come into the English league and it's not easy. He's done terrific for us and deserves it”.
There are impediments to a return to Spain for De Gea, though. A return to Atletico looks highly improbable. Barcelona are looking at 20-year-old Borussia Mönchengladbach keeper Ter Stegen, having hinted that they do not see De Gea as a keeper who suits their needs, and Real Madrid would see less need to replace Casillas if Mourinho does not stay beyond the end of the season.
Marca knew what it saw though. “It was an exhibition of incredible saves,” it said of De Gea yesterday. “He was outstanding in every aspect of the game and not at all at fault for the goal,” they enthused in Spain's biggest selling sports paper. “He saved with his hands his feet, he blocked everything, making eight excellent saves.” – The Independent