David De Gea is still a Man United player. Strange, I know. De Gea to Real Madrid was meant to be the most done deal of all done deals this summer. Yet here we are, middle of August and he is still a United player. However, what was once appearing to be a stalemate transfer saga that was being handled professionally by both club and player, has suddenly become a little less professional and the mud has started to get slung. So what’s happened to make this apparently amicable situation turn ugly?
Everything over the last couple of seasons has kind of fallen into place for this transfer to happen. The last two years has seen De Gea establish himself as one of the best goalkeepers in the world, probably only second to Manuel Neuer. The past two years has also seen Sir Alex Ferguson retire, Man United being in either a dip or a decline depending on your point of view, failing to qualify for the Champions League and not even being contenders for the title at the start of the season for the first time in over two decades. During the same span of time over in Madrid, Real won a historic La Decima and have been actively looking to move on and replace legendary goalkeeper and captain, Iker Casillas.
Everything seemed in place for the Madrid born De Gea, who only has one year left to run on his contract, to return to his native country, his native city, back to his family, back to his long term girlfriend, all while swapping a club not competing for trophies in the immediate future, for a club that is always competing for trophies in the immediate future. Put yourself in his shoes, if you moved abroad for career reasons, and now a bigger company in your hometown headhunts you for a job, you’d want to go too. We all would. It’s hard to find a Man United fan that doesn’t understand his desire to go home.
There is something I want to iron out, it’s a sentiment that has gotten thrown around a lot this summer; the idea that De Gea “doesn’t want to be there”, and the notion that if he stays, he will sulk and intentionally under perform. It’s quite apparent that he wants to join Madrid, nobody is disputing that, I mean, not signing a new deal at United is a pretty big giveaway. But wanting to play somewhere else doesn’t automatically mean that he is also unhappy at United. They aren’t mutually exclusive state of minds.
We’ve seen nothing from De Gea to suggest he would be anything other than professional should he have to stay. The fact that he stalled on a new contract for pretty much all of last season, means that his head has been turned for quite some time, and that didn’t stop him from being flat out incredible for the year. Anecdotally, he is very good, close friends with both Juan Mata and Ander Herrera. I have this gut feeling that he isn’t going to intentional hamper his mates chances of success by spitefully letting in goals on purpose. He has a good rapport with the United fans. A totaling up of small little things like that, leads me to believe that while he would ideally move to Madrid this summer, he isn’t going to view it as the end of the world should he have to stay one more year.
When a player is desperate to leave a club, they make it very well known. We all know the telltale signs, there are loads of incidents littered down through the history of football of players forcing moves. Even look at this summer, Angel Di Maria went AWOL and didn’t return for pre season to push his move to PSG through. Raheem Sterling did a public interview with the BBC, had his agent run his mouth at every opportunity and was too tired to train when trying to get his move to City finished. Nothing like this has come from De Gea. He strikes me as a man who isn’t in any rush, and isn’t in any panic over the idea of playing one more season at Old Trafford.
There is a feeling amongst some United fans that he should at least sign a contract extension so United can extract full value for money if/when they decide to sell him. Or a feeling that he should show some loyalty to the United cause, especially after he was shown such unwavering support when he was having a rocky start to his United career. Like he owes us, or something. As far as I’m concerned, any debt he owed to the United fans has been well and truly paid off by this last two seasons of heroics, regularly being a superhero saving the damsels in distress that call themselves a defence.
A stalemate seems to have been reached with this transfer, and it stems from the fact that the numbers being bandied about – €18-€20 million or so – are way too low for a player of his caliber. I understand he is in the last year of his deal, but I’d still refuse that amount out of hand for a player as good as De Gea.
De Gea was essentially the main reason United got back into the Champions League this season. He was almost like a one-man show at times, charged with the responsibility of regularly bailing out his teammates. Without him, I’m certain United would have missed out on the Champions League for a second season running. That alone is worth more than €20 million, therefore I would sooner have De Gea in goal for a season and lose him for free next summer than accept an offer way under his valuation.
It seems like United Chief Executive Ed “the transfer Don” Woodward felt the same. Nobody wants to lose their best players, but sometimes you can’t avoid it, and the circumstances around this one really have United by the balls. And while pretty much all United fans have resigned to losing him eventually; the most you can hope for is that the club wont just bend over and sell your star player for a pittance. And in that regard, United have played their hand well so far.
When you are the financial juggernaut that United currently are, then it should be a matter of principal that you don’t sell your star player to someone whom you are meant to be viewing as a rival. If United aspire to getting back to the top of the European mountain, then they just cant sell prized assets to the competition for a low-ball fee. Ideally, you don’t sell to your rivals at all, but if you absolutely have to, then you need to make a stand and force them to pay whatever you value the player at, not what they value the player at.
However, the plot has twisted a little now that the season has started, and De Gea has been dropped from the match day squad for both of United’s opening games. Louis van Gaal has made claims about De Gea’s head not being in the right place and even refusing to play – a claim denied by De Gea. Is this an attempt to run a little smear campaign on De Gea to soften the blow should United decide to sell him this month? Is the implication going to be that him playing another year just wasn’t a viable option? I don’t know, but something seems odd with this sudden turn of events. If De Gea’s attitude is that way inclined, then I feel more noises would have been coming out of his camp throughout the summer.
United have played hard-ball with Madrid all summer. Not willing to sell unless they get the fee United want while also pushing hard to get Sergio Ramos to move the other way. They also haven’t signed a proper replacement for De Gea yet either. If United play hard-ball all summer long, only to bend over in the final stretch of the window, accepting the low ball offer and leaving next to no time to replace such a key player, then they are going to look very foolish.