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David De Gea claps the United fans

Opinion: David De Gea is now an icon of this United era

There is a continual conversation within football about Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi being the iconic players of our generation, who fans are lucky to observe and enjoy in the flesh.

Both have become beacons of excellence in the modern game, maintaining an extraordinary level of performance at the highest level, not just for a few seasons but well over a decade. They have moved the bar to a seemingly unattainable position and watching either of them is rightly considered a privilege. 

It’s a cliché, but they are the players to tell your grandchildren about. When I’m old, I know I’ll regale every youngster in sight about the years I saw Ronaldo in the flesh at Old Trafford, honing his talent and becoming the club legend that he is today. I’ll even say ‘I was there’ the night he returned, with Real Madrid, to reluctantly knock us out of the Champions League with a muted close-range finish. 

When my Ronaldo stories are worn out, I’ll press on to that nervy 2008 evening when Messi had every one of us on tenterhooks, dribbling forward at mazy angles, with pace, in search of what would have been a potentially devastating away goal for Barcelona. I’ll try to convey the conflicting emotions of feeling terrified, yet all the while in awe of this magician’s unerring ability on the ball. 

This season, I have realised I will talk about David De Gea in the same light. 

De Gea: I love all of my team-matesVideo

That’s a massive statement to make, I know, but I firmly believe the Spaniard is a genuine marvel and once-in-a-generation talent who has been consistently performing at a world-class level for five consecutive seasons. 

In that time he’s been crowned the undisputed Premier League no.1 and, more recently, wrestled the world title from Germany’s Manuel Neuer.

How many times have we seen David make a save that is beyond logic, or shaken our heads in disbelief? It happens almost every week and has done for many years. It isn't good form, it is excellence.

To be blunt: there comes a point when you have to sit back, take stock and acknowledge something truly special is happening before us.

De Gea recently made history once again by winning the prestigious Sir Matt Busby Player of the Year award for a fourth season out of seven, which crucially moved him past the tally of three that were claimed by Ronaldo during his own six seasons as a Red.

In many ways David’s story is similar to Ronaldo’s: two teenagers from the continent who joined United for large fees and with a weight of expectation on slender shoulders. They struggled to adapt, were inconsistent and faced criticism, but met the challenges head on, grew in stature and became world-class talents.

De Gea also took home the Players’ Player award for a third time and stacking up the accolades like that is an astonishing achievement for a player of any position, but they are unprecedented for a goalkeeper at a club where heroes are traditionally attack-minded with the numbers 7, 9, 10 or 11 on their backs. 

The moment De Gea made Reds historyVideo

De Gea is still only 28 years old and that is almost pubescent for a goalkeeper, as they traditionally do not hit their prime until well into their 30s.

That suggests David has countless more seasons of performing at the highest level and possibly even improving once again, which Michael Carrick alluded to after presenting his decorated team-mate with another award.

“I am not at all surprised he has won this,” the club captain explained on MUTV. “Some of the saves he has made, especially this season, have been verging on the ridiculous and they are ones that he should never make.

“But, year on year, he has just got better and better and better. You looked at him two years ago and he was playing unbelievably well. Now, he has somehow taken it to another level! Who knows how much better he could become in the future.”

The prospect of De Gea getting better - or maintaining his current level - must fill opposition strikers with dread, but for us United fans it is tantalising and I’m planning to take it all in. 

If you ever meet me when I’m old, retired and nostalgic, get ready to hear my full repertoire of David De Gea stories. 

The opinions in this story are personal to the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Manchester United Football Club.

*This article was first published on 2 May 2018.