watched this boy week-in, week out and then signed him I just don’t know.”
“There isn’t much analysis of the Premier League in Spain,” says Balague, “but there is a lot of reaction to what the reaction is. They took note of what was being said about De Gea, and it surprised people because 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.