A struggle all the way

It seems only a matter of time before David de Gea gets a chance in the senior Spain team, although he faces tough competition from the likes of Iker Casillas and Victor Valdes, writes Daniel Bonser.

Filling the boots of greats is never going to be an easy task, and, as this season has proved, doing it at one of the biggest football clubs in the world is even more difficult.

While the focus is now on David Moyes as he struggles to match the success that Sir Alex Ferguson enjoyed as Manchester United manager, David de Gea may have more sympathy than most for him.

As a 20-year-old, De Gea was thrown in at the deep-end when Ferguson chose him to replace the retiring Edwin van der Sar. His signing broke the British transfer record for a goalkeeper and with a GBP17.8 million price tag on his head, the young Spaniard had a lot to live up to.

De Gea started his career with Atletico Madrid where he signed as a 10-year-old and moved through the ranks before making his debut for the Atletico Madrid ‘B’ team in 2008. He got his big break just one year later at the age of 18 when he was called up to the first team. With Sergio Asenjo away with Spain at the 2009 FIFA Under-20 World Cup, he was added to the squad as cover.

During the UEFA Champions League game against Porto, Roberto Jimenez suffered an injury and De Gea came on for his debut, although letting in two late goals marred the occasion. Despite that, De Gea was given his La Liga debut a few days later, at home to Real Zaragoza, and things were again looking bleak when he gave away a penalty. He made amends though by keeping out the spot-kick and it proved decisive in a 2-1 victory.

The arrival of new manager Quique Flores to the Vicente Calderon further boosted De Gea’s career and he became the number-one choice towards the end of the 2009/10 season, which culminated in his first piece of silverware as Atletico beat Fulham 2-1 in the UEFA Europa League final.

De Gea then played an important role in the 2-0 win over Inter Milan in the UEFA Super Cup final and by now he was capturing the attention of clubs across Europe.

With news of the imminent departure of Van der Sar, Manchester United were searching for a worthy replacement and they turned to De Gea while he was away with the Spanish team during their successful 2011 UEFA Under-21 Championship campaign.

The deal was completed once De Gea returned and his new life in England began. He made his competitive debut against rivals Manchester City in the Community Shield as United came from 2-0 down to win 3-2.

De Gea needed time to settle into the Premier League after a few shaky performances at Old Trafford, none more so than on his league debut against West Brom when Shane Long’s tame effort trickled under his body.

Questions were asked whether De Gea was ready for the demands of English football as he continued to look vulnerable, especially when having to deal with high balls into his box. His mistakes in the early part of the season ultimately proved crucial as United were famously pipped to the title by Manchester City in the dying seconds of the season following Sergio Aguero’s dramatic winner against QPR. The Spaniard’s second season with the Red Devils went much better and De Gea finally began to produce his best form on a consistent basis as United regained the EPL title.

De Gea played his part with 11 clean sheets and was named in the 2013 Professional Footballers’ Association Team of the Year. He also secured his second UEFA Under-21 Championship after Spain beat Italy 4-2 in the final and was named in the Team of the Tournament in the process.

It seems only a matter of time before he gets a chance in the senior Spain team, although he faces tough competition from the likes of Iker Casillas and Victor Valdes.

De Gea’s mistakes are now few and far between but it summed up United’s fortunes under Moyes when he again let in a soft goal against Sunderland when they were just a few minutes away from reaching the League Cup final.

Speaking before that blunder, De Gea reflected on his form this season and told MUTV: “I feel very settled here and I am happy with the way I am playing.

“I am still learning and improving all the time. That is important. I hope to carry on doing that and keep my spot in the team.”

At such a young age, he could have a long career ahead of him at Old Trafford. De Gea is not married, but currently is in a relationship with Spanish pop star Edurne Garcia Almargo.

FACTFILE NAME: David de Gea. DOB: 7/11/1990. POSITION: Goalkeeper. CLUB: Manchester United.

MOMENT TO REMEMBER: Winning the UEFA Europa League final after Atletico Madrid beat Fulham.

MOMENT TO FORGET: Failing to stop a tame effort from Shane Long on his EPL debut for Manchester United.

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