Since making the switch from hometown club Atletico Madrid in the summer of 2011, David De Gea’s Manchester United career has seen him mature from an exciting prospect into an Old Trafford great and one of the top goalkeepers of the modern era.
Arriving in Manchester as a 20-year-old following notable success in the UEFA Europa League and UEFA Super Cup with Atleti in 2010, the young Spaniard was tasked with filling the boots of retiring great Edwin van der Sar.
"We haven't mentioned that to him," Sir Alex answered asked about De Gea taking over from his legendary predecessor prior to the 2011/12 campaign. "I don't think there's any point. The past is the past and Edwin is part of the past. He had an incredible career with us, he was an incredible goalkeeper. But hopefully the future belongs to David De Gea."
The future sure did belong to the Madrileno between the sticks in M16, despite some early teething problems in the Reds’ no.1 jersey. Ferguson would call it “a learning process” for a young David in his first season, who stood tall and showed his quality and character despite some criticism in the media.
A penalty save to deny future team-mate Robin van Persie in just his second Old Trafford appearance, against Arsenal, plus a world-class stop to deny another to-be United compatriot Juan Mata at Stamford Bridge were the first glimpses of that outstanding talent that became all so familiar in the years that followed.
The Spaniard would have had a Premier League winners’ medal to take back to his home country after his debut campaign too, only for Manchester’s City’s stoppage-time heroics on the final day of the campaign.
De Gea would help United to rectify that in the following season though, as a matured campaign saw him voted into the PFA Team of the Year for the first time as the title returned to the Theatre of Dreams.
In 2013/14, his rise to world football’s goalkeeping top table really began to take off, and his performances saw him win both United’s Players’ and Fans’ (Sir Matt Busby) Player of the Year awards for the first time, which he followed up with his first senior cap for Spain in June 2014.
Having returned to Manchester following a summer away at his first major tournament with his nation at senior level, the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, David repeated his club prize-winning efforts of the prior term as well as returning to the PFA Team of the Year for the second time of what was to become five in total.
At the still raw age of 23, a solid overall campaign in which he played a vital role in United’s return to the Champions League following a one-year absence, was punctuated with a string of stellar showings, two of the most memorable coming during the visits of Everton and Liverpool to Old Trafford in the Premier League.
In the summer of 2015, an agreement was reached for De Gea to return to Spain and sign for Real Madrid, but the deal was not to be completed on deadline day. David would go on to put pen to paper on a new four-year contract, with the option of a further year, in the following month, in which he also captained United for the first time against Ipswich Town in the League Cup.
De Gea went on to play a key role in our road to lifting the FA Cup in 2016, most notably saving Romelu Lukaku’s penalty in the semi-final against Everton and was later named our Sir Matt Busby Player of the Year for the third successive season, becoming the first player in our history to achieve such a feat.
By September 2017, the goalkeeper brought up 100 clean sheets for United in a 4-0 victory over Everton at Old Trafford. Three months later, he produced one of his best-ever performances in the competition, equalling its record for a number of saves in a single match (14) during our 3-1 win at Arsenal. He went on to finish the season by winning the division’s Golden Glove award for the first time, as well as adding a fourth Sir Matt Busby Player of the Year crown.
The following campaign, our no.1 returned to the capital and was in fine form again, this time to thwart the Gunners’ rivals Tottenham Hotspur during a Man-of-the-Match winning performance at Wembley. Later in 2018/19, he also kept his 100th Premier League clean sheet for the club, becoming only the second goalkeeper in our history to do so after Peter Schmeichel.
In 2020, De Gea signed a new deal to keep him in Manchester until at least 2023 and despite a tough period that came during the Project Restart earlier in the year, manager at the time Ole Gunnar Solskjaer said that the goalkeeper remained “the best in the world”.
As the 2020/21 season kicked off, David had arguably his biggest competition yet to be United’s first-choice regular between the sticks following the return of Dean Henderson from a loan at Sheffield United. The two shared the game time across the competitions, including the Premier League and the Europa League.
Towards the business end of the latter, the Spaniard became Solskjaer’s preferred option in Europe, as he oversaw victories versus Granada and Roma in the quarter-finals and semi-finals respectively. De Gea would then endure one of his toughest nights in a United shirt in Gdansk’s final against Villarreal however, with his saved spot-kick proving decisive in condemning the Reds to defeat after a long, tense shoot-out.
Typical of the shot-stopper however, De Gea was keen to bounce back in 2021/22 and returned to training early in the summer, following his exploits with Spain at the rearranged European Championship.
A heroic penalty save at the London Stadium to deny West Ham’s Mark Noble saw United clinch a dramatic 2-1 victory in September, while his all-round impressive displays saw him win our Player of the Month award three times in a row between November 2021 and January 2022. David also became the first goalkeeper to claim the Premier League’s accolade, during the latter month, since 2016.
Having been named in the starting XI of the 3-0 win over Brentford in our final home game of the 2021/22 campaign, De Gea moved joint-11th on United’s all-time appearance chart with Arthur Albiston, having played 485 times in total for the club.
By October in the 2022/23 season, the Spaniard was closing in on his 500th appearance for the club and eyeing a place in the all-time top 10, needing to play 510 times for the Reds to match Joe Spence.