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26th Oct 2018

De Gea isn’t the next Edwin van der Sar – he’s the next Matt Le Tissier

As fresh rumours emerge of potential suitors capitalising on the current contract impasse, it becomes less a question of why De Gea should go and more why he would possibly stay.

Nooruddean Choudry

If you love someone, set them free.

“I am not confident,” admitted Jose Mourinho on Friday about David de Gea penning a new deal at Manchester United. “I cannot find the word in English, but let’s see what happens.” This amidst rumours that Juventus are ready to test the Spaniard’s resolve to stay at Old Trafford. After Tuesday evening though, even the most ardent United fan must be wondering why he still persists with a club in perennial transition.

A few years back, even the slightest hint that De Gea was ready to move on was greeted with entitled ire. This was, after all, a player that United had believed in and backed from a young age. The supporters especially had stood by him when others questioned his suitability for the rough-and-tumble of Premier League football. It is easy to forget the ridiculous amounts of television analysis that his slightest fumble attracted.

The sense was that De Gea had it made at Old Trafford, and that any desire to leave would be the result of ungrateful hubris on his part. Each summer brought with it fresh rumours that the Madrilenian was Bernabeu-bound, but a combination of United obstinance, the player’s professional decorum, and a dodgy fax machine kept him from Real’s clutches. In the end, the Spanish giants gave up and ‘settled’ for Thibaut Courtois.

As fresh rumours emerge of potential suitors capitalising on the current contract impasse, it becomes less a question of why De Gea should go and more why he would possibly stay. Having spent seven and a half years at the club and only having a solitary league title and three cup winners’ medals to show for it, you have to start wondering why the world’s best goalkeeper is wasting his time and career at Old Trafford.

That is no reflection of the size and history of Manchester United, but rather the current messy malaise the club is in. Of course the millions of supporters around the world would want him to save their bacon on a twice-weekly basis, but from an objective point of view, what does it say about the player himself? If we are to question the motivation and drive of others who stay put rather than properly test themselves, why not De Gea?

No player is bigger than any one club, but they can be far, far better than the squad. The 27-year-old staying rooted at United is akin to the class swot being seated at the thicko table at school. De Gea is getting pats on the head and smiley faces for his top marks, whilst Marouane Fellaini is setting fire to his own hair and Phil Jones is getting a crayon stuck up his nose. MUFC Player of the Year four times in the last five years? Whoopee-do.

Anyone of a certain will recall the undeniable genius of Matt Le Tissier at Southampton. He was utterly beguiling and there hasn’t been a player like him since. Indeed it was Barcelona great Xavi who gushed: “His talent was simply out of the norm. He could simply dribble past seven or eight players but without speed – he just walked past them. For me he was sensational.” The only bone of contention? It was at Southampton.

Again, that is no criticism of a fine club, but the question outside of the south coast was always, why not make that step up and prove yourself at a higher level? Why not grace a stage more befitting of your outrageous skills? An accusation that always plagued the Guernsey magician was that he lacked ambition. It ignored the fact that he was such a brave player who always demanded the ball and took on so much responsibility at the Saints.

Still there lingers the hypothetical of what could have been, had Le Tissier moved to a Liverpool or Manchester United, or even to one the continent’s big glamour clubs. Such whimsies are redundant now, but not so for De Gea. If you were advising the only world-class player (on form) of his current club, would you honestly prescribe a prolonged stay at United? Like any well-behaved captive of misfortune, hasn’t he now done his time?

De Gea still has years ahead of him as a top-flight goalkeeper, and he should rightfully spend them collecting as many prestige honours as he possibly can, to make up for lost time. Or he could continue to perform largely pointless miracles for his current club, surrounded by underperforming talents and sub-standard players trying their best. Even United fans know in their hearts that he’s a bit wasted at their club at present.