they knew a goalkeeper that was really special. At first, people in England didn’t know what United had in their hands, and once you get a cliché in somebody’s head, that’s it. I saw a lot of well-known people comparing him to Massimo Taibi after two games. This is a player who – alongside Valencia’s Vicente Guaita – is the future of Spanish goalkeeping.”
The Spaniard shared goalkeeping duties with Anders Lindegaard throughout the first half of De Gea’s maiden season in England, until an ankle injury forced the Dane onto the sidelines. Less than a week later, De Gea enjoyed a watershed moment in his United career. Having reeled Chelsea in from a three-goal deficit to level at Stamford Bridge, United’s share of the spoils was preserved by a staggeringly athletic fingertip save from De Gea to flick away Juan Mata’s injury-time free-kick.
“From a personal perspective that was important,” the stopper later admitted. “When you look back over a season there are lots of defining moments and key goals. Particularly from a personal point of view, the fact the save was right in the last minute was decisive. Possibly it gave me a huge confidence boost as well.”
Though his debut campaign ended on a collective low, De Gea finished 2011/12 imbued with invaluable experience of life in England. His start to the current campaign was again interspersed with spells on the sidelines, but since last December he has been a virtual fixture in Sir Alex’s defensive unit. The highlights have been numerous, but none match a superb display of dexterity and reflexes in the draw at Real Madrid. Even then, much attention was afforded to his unorthodox decision to fend away a Fabio Coentrao shot with his right boot, rather than his hands.
“Like always when someone tries something new, people say: ‘You’re wrong. For a hundred years we did it this other way,’” says Balague. “He uses his feet for saves, sometimes with his feet elevated to the same height as his hands, which has created a bit of controversy in England, but I think he may be onto something here. There’s a lot of intuition and preparation in it. He told me that if he sees that a save with the hands is not going to have enough power, the foot will always take the ball away from the danger area. David does it systematically as