Beaten by Edin Dzeko’s speculative effort in the Community Shield and Shane Long’s altogether tamer shot in United’s Premier League opener at the Hawthorns, the Spaniard was quickly targeted by trigger-happy critics. “The goalkeeper is like a jelly,” said one experienced scribe. “I can’t see what he’s got. How on earth Ferguson and all his millions of coaches could have 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.”