Let's get topical. If you're to compare the world of football to your everyday secondary school - and why not - most players have an analog. The cocky, arrogant kid is the star striker. There's the hardworking, unassuming types who don't get a great deal of attention are the tireless midfielders. The kid who's always a bit out of it is, well, not legally allowed to be revealed. Sign a new goalkeeper, however, and you're just the new kid. You don't particularly know anybody, you're in a new area, you're just trying to find your feet. You look a bit weird, nobody talks to you, it's just awkward. If you make a mistake or two early on, you're still the new kid. Don't think that's changed. You're the new kid but instead of showing up with a rucksack you've turned up with your books and pens inside a briefcase. You're asking for a smack and it won't make you very popular. You'll be tarred with that brush with phrases such as "dodgy keeper" and it's pretty difficult to get rid of it. A stubborn stain to say the least.
David De Gea's case in his first few weeks as a Manchester United player has been well-covered, perfectly summed up by one United blogger, who said that, unlike his teammate Phil Jones, "David De Gea didn't even get a honeymoon with the press". This has highlighted the plight of that particular position and why a committed manager is absolutely essential, especially in the early years of a keeper's career.
Much is made of the awkward period between the retirement of Peter Schmeichel and the signing of his eventual true successor Edwin van der Sar, with the list of players in between them reading as follows: Mark Bosnich, Raimond van der Gouw, Massimo Taibi, Ricardo, Fabien Barthez, Roy Carroll and Tim Howard. Even Andy Goram, when he wasn't running a pub. Some of them received opportunities and blew it; Barthez, for example, was a good goalkeeper but his moments of insanity and eventual loss of form spelled the end for him. Carroll also had significant chances to impress but mistakes, including but not limited to throwing the ball over his own line when catching a shot from the halfway line, meant he probably wasn't going to make it. Some didn't receive much of a chance at all; Ricardo was signed as backup to Barthez and Carroll and made one league appearance in which he gave away a penalty and subsequently saved it.
However, the best comparison to a player like De Gea would probably be Tim Howard. Although Howard was a few years older (about 24) with significantly less experience at the top level (in fact, no European experience, having been signed from the MetroStars), there's a cautionary tale in his Manchester United career. Howard displayed some promising moments, saving a penalty in a shootout in his debut Community Shield against Arsenal, but eventually the mistakes began to creep in. Howard lost his confidence and was dropped in favour of Carroll, something which occurred on more than one occasion. The most notable mistake was in the Champions League against Porto as he allowed them to score a last minute goal (Porto, managed by a certain Jose Mourinho, went on to win the tournament). You could argue that not enough faith was shown in him, as a relatively inexperienced goalkeeper who would need to be able to cope with the pressures associated with keeping for a top European club. Unsurprisingly, he didn't make it at United after that, and he has since gone on to rebuild his reputation at Everton, with whom he defeated United in the 2009 FA Cup semi-final, saving two penalties along the way.
It's likely that Ferguson has learned from this mistake and so have many of the fans. That's why, despite Anders Lindegaard eager to play and impress, there is no pressure on him to drop David De Gea, and rightfully so. Ferguson only needs to ask his old rival Arsene Wenger about keeping the faith, although ironically much of the criticism over Wenger has been about keeping the faith in his current crop of players instead of signing new personnel. Wenger has never really significantly replaced Jens Lehmann, although Wojciech Szczęsny may prove to be the long term solution to that problem. Szczęsny, as I'm sure everyone remembers, was involved in a calamitous mix-up that cost Arsenal the Carling Cup last season. But Wenger didn't drop him from his plans, and Szczęsny is the current (and undisputed, I think it's fair to say) number one. This is with good reason, as anyone who saw his performance against Udinese in the Champions League would attest to. Szczęsny was touted as a top keeper from a young age (and he's still very young), he made his mistakes, and he now appears to be blossoming as a first team regular.
De Gea is similar in this regard. Anyone who has seen De Gea before knows how much ability he has, there's just a certain amount of acclimatisation that most players have to make when transferring to a new league. It's crucial to stick with a player during this period, otherwise you end up with a player like Ben Foster, who was a good shot stopper but completely lost his head at certain moments (as Gareth Barry will tell you, perhaps with a grin on his face, although maybe not). He lost his head, he lost the fans, and eventually he lost his place. The same goes for Tomasz Kuszczak, although playing against Blackburn like he'd been out the night before and had been drinking until kickoff didn't help. He probably fell asleep during a lull in the action too. He's currently at best third in the pecking order and is very much surplus to requirements.
De Gea's showing against Spurs was improved over his previous two showings, even when faced with slightly disrespectful (and amusingly ineffective) long shots from the Tottenham players, and the crowd support will have done him the world of good, particularly if he keeps up his excellent distribution, of which his throw to begin the move for the second goal is a prime example. That sounds slightly cliched on paper, he had the crowd on his side, but it's particularly true for new goalkeepers and it should shatter the initial media description of him as an "isolated figure in the Manchester United goal" as well as improving his confidence and, therefore, his performance on the pitch.
Similar nonsense can be found in Rafael's Back Pocket.
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