How do you solve a problem like David de Gea? That was the issue for Louis Van Gaal and Manchester United this summer as fellow European giants Real Madrid pursued their Spanish international goalkeeper.
The United number one, who joined the English side from Real’s cross city rivals Atletico Madrid, has been an integral part of United’s squad for the last few seasons, pulling off a string of fine saves in their most recent title winning season, 2012/13. He has also won the club’s player of the year award in each of the subsequent seasons, providing an assured head in between the sticks whilst United rebuilt under David Moyes and now Van Gaal.
But he has been widely tipped for some time now to be Iker Casillas’ successor. That process is already under way as he begins to break into the Spanish national team’s starting lineup, playing in their most recent Euro 2016 qualifier against Macedonia. And as Casillas’ long and illustrious career with Real Madrid came to an end with a move to Porto in the summer, it seemed that only one man would take his place.
Not since the will-he-won’t-he saga of Cristiano Ronaldo’s move to the Spanish capital has so much attention been paid to the future of a United player. Sure, there was Wayne Rooney’s contract dispute that eventually saw him become United’s top earner, but the captain’s future was resolved in a matter of days.
Madrid chased Ronaldo for two seasons, as he led United to the Premier League and Champions League double in 2008, before getting them to the final of European football’s elite competition again the following year, whilst retaining their title to make it three in a row. Back then, the whole world was talking about the Messi vs Ronaldo debate. Barcelona had Messi, Madrid needed Ronaldo. And they got their man. Like they normally do.
It looked like the same story would be told about De Gea when an agreement was struck on deadline day, only for the paperwork to be submitted after the deadline and the move to fall through. Madrid were left disappointed and their president Florentino Perez was left facing some awkward questions.
Both clubs were blaming each other. All involved denied responsibility. Social media was buzzing. Everybody was giving their very own input on the mess that these two heavyweights had made of a seemingly simple transfer deal.
The general consensus was that De Gea would just see out his contract, one due to expire at the end of the season, and then move on a free transfer next summer. So it was a surprise for everybody when he signed a new deal. A four-year deal to be precise. With the option of a further year.
No doubt there is a pay rise in there. But more than anything it is a sign that United will not be bullied by Madrid, or their player. Spain boss Vicente del Bosque suggested it would be hard to pick De Gea for the upcoming European Championship if he isn’t playing regular football. Surely United used that in their negotiations. “Sign this contract and you’ll play football, don’t sign it and we will leave you out of the squad.” You would assume United used that to their advantage.
But it also guarantees that United will be in a strong position if any further advances for their player come in. They will either be able to hold on to a world class player, rated by many as one of the top two or three goalkeepers in the world, or they will get a substantial transfer fee.
It’s not been revealed whether there’s a buyout clause, but even if there is, you would imagine it is a sizeable one. One thing United are not desperate for is cash, but they do need stability, which is why this renewal represents a victory for the Red Devils.