at the Union Buildings in Pretoria
As Sir Alex Ferguson said goodbye to his players in London on Sunday night, it would have been no surprise if the Manchester United manager was already considering a more permanent farewell to goalkeeper David de Gea.
Hours earlier the Spaniard’s woeful punch had led to Tottenham’s injury-time equaliser at White Hart Lane, costing his team two points in the Premier League title race.
Following De Gea’s latest blunder it is understood that United will explore the possibility of sending him back to Spain in the summer after accepting that he is unlikely to ever settle in England.
There have been concerns for some time that the 22-year-old is homesick. His pop star girlfriend Edurne has stayed in Madrid throughout the player’s time in Manchester and language problems have hindered his attempts to bond with team-mates.
Since becoming the most expensive goalkeeper in the history of British football at £17.8million, De Gea has also struggled with the challenge of succeeding Edwin van der Sar and the physical demands of the Premier League.
There has never been any doubt about his shot-stopping capabilities. The former Atletico Madrid keeper made some fantastic saves to protect United’s lead against Spurs.
It would be unfair to say that De Gea has not improved since a shaky start to life at United. But he has progressed little when it comes to dealing with high balls.
This, combined with a failure to bulk up over the last two-and-a-half years, means United know that opponents will always target him while he remains physically frail and mentally fragile in that part of his game.
De Gea had already punched a couple of high balls instead of catching them on Sunday before his weak attempt at clearing Benoit Assou-Ekotto’s cross fell straight to Aaron Lennon in the penalty box. He squared the ball for Clint Dempsey to equalise in the last of three minutes of added time.
Former United defender and Sky TV pundit Gary Neville packed considerably more punch after the game. ‘You can’t do that,’ said Neville. ‘They are big, big moments. That punch there has cost his team.
‘He’s got to clear it out of his box, take everything with him. We’re talking about playing for Manchester United and trying to win a championship. You’ve got to punch that 15 or 20 yards away.
‘Schmeichel, Van der Sar, he’s got to get to that level.’
Not for the first time, De Gea’s body language spoke volumes. That and an obvious lack of communication do little to reassure his defenders that he is in control of a situation. Some are said to prefer playing in front of Anders Lindegaard.
However, Ferguson has not picked the Dane for a Premier League game since he conceded three goals in 23 minutes at Reading at the start of December, casting doubt over Lindegaard’s own future at Old Trafford.
While his players left London for four days of warm-weather training in Qatar, Ferguson stayed behind in the capital for a United Foundation fundraiser last night. He is also expected to hold talks over a deal for Crystal Palace winger Wilfried Zaha today.
Real Madrid or Barcelona are the obvious destinations if Ferguson decides to cut his losses on De Gea.
Sportsmail revealed last month that Stoke’s Asmir Begovic tops a list of possible replacements which includes Fernando Muslera of Galatasaray and Borussia Monchengladbach’s Marc-Andre ter Stegen. – Daily Mail