‘I’m better than all the other goalkeepers here. I’ll get in the first team here.’ There was something I liked about him. There was assuredness, security. It wasn’t arrogance, it was conviction.” That conviction prompted Atlético to pull the plug on a deal to send De Gea out on loan to Wigan Athletic; those at the Estadio Vicente Calderon knew they had a unique prospect on their books.
“People were talking about Joel Robles as the prominent goalkeeper coming through their ranks,” says As journalist Guillem Balague. “Atlético Madrid went along with that to protect De Gea as they knew that he was something special. As soon as he came into prominence everyone saw his potential and there was no doubt that he was going to go far. He had one or two things that made him really special; one was that calmness that he has in big games, which really served him well when it was needed.”
A star in high-profile games against Barcelona and Real Madrid, in addition to Atlético’s successful Europa League run of 2009/10, De Gea’s twinkling talent caught the eye of United and he was enlisted to replace the departed Edwin van der Sar. The 40-year-old’s legacy could not have been more imposing: a four-time champion, having just featured in his third Champions League final in four years, but Sir Alex, having passed up the chance to sign both Petr Cech and Joe Hart in their formative years, didn’t want to risk missing out for a third time on one of goalkeeping’s hot prospects.
Nevertheless, De Gea’s arrival provoked an outbreak of the numbers game among the British media. Half van der Sar’s age, history’s second-most expensive goalkeeper, but the Spaniard merely shrugged: “It doesn’t interest me. They are numbers, clauses, prices.