De Gea v Schmeichel: Why I pick David over the Great Dane
I've always thought it's a generational thing. We usually hold players from our youth in higher esteem than those in later life.
Maybe we're just more impressionable and look up to them with greater reverence or, perhaps simply, we employ rose-tinted glasses when remembering the past.
Certainly, I've always been in the camp that believes Diego Maradona to be the greatest footballer that ever lived - those older than me might nominate George Best or Pele. The current generation would argue the case of Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo, and it's hard to refute the statistics that back this up. Yet I'd still plump for Maradona, who I saw play England at Wembley when I was a child and he was only a teenager. His achievements with Napoli and Argentina were just something else.
Similarly, I never thought I would see a better Manchester United goalkeeper than Peter Schmeichel. Yes, Edwin van der Sar brought an elegant excellence and composure but the Dane was on another level for me. I remember being excited by his signing, which appeared to drag out for several months, and would nominate his performances in winning Euro 92 for his country as one of the most influential tournament contributions, while not quite matching Maradona's World Cup feat in 1986.
Schmeichel was a colossus for United. I know he made mistakes over the years but these were extremely rare and pale into insignificance when recalling the aura he had about him, providing that constant assurance that everything would be okay at the back. Hundreds of memories flood to the front of my mind - I remember a midweek display at Everton when he saved a penalty and was outstanding, the pivotal 1-0 win at Newcastle United in 1996, even the fact he fought so gamely to keep out one of the goals in the painful 5-0 hammering by the Magpies later that same year.
I was in Austria for his best-ever save - at Rapid Vienna - and thought I'd always tell the grandchildren about this superb Scandinavian shot-stopper who was the best I've ever seen. Last night's Champions League tie has done something I never guessed would happen. It's changed my mind - and I can be quite stubborn when it comes to things like this.
De Gea evoked the exact feeling that Schmeichel used to do as Sevilla piled on the pressure before half-time. The sheer belief that any situation is saveable, when you have that split second in your mind to process what is happening and think 'it's a goal' - and yet it's not, because our super Spaniard is still able to intervene.
Schmeichel used to stand big in one-on-ones, do his star jumps from his handball background, and look impenetrable. De Gea has less presence but more agility and, quite frankly, the stop from Luis Muriel appeared to defy the laws of physics as the ball hurtled goalwards from close range. His all-round game, consistency and unflappable nature has totally won me over.
I backed him when he arrived as a skinny Spaniard from Atletico Madrid, and the knives were out after an unconvincing start, because of his lofty reputation and the fact the raw attributes were there. But I never thought I'd say he was the best Manchester United goalkeeper I'd ever seen. Yet that is the accolade I can now give him and I wonder if other supporters, even those who remember Schmeichel in his pomp, are in agreement.
The opinions in this story are personal to the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Manchester United Football Club.