Louis van Gaal’s words about David de Gea’s future this weekend will not have made for great listening for Manchester United fans, but it could be music to the ears of those who support Real Madrid.
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The 6’4″ De Gea has matured into a wonderful goalkeeper. The Spaniard, who was born and raised in Madrid, boasts the tall, wiry build the best in his position have – like Thibaut Courtois at Chelsea. This physique ensures excellent reach – far beyond that of Iker Casillas, who is just 6’0″ tall – but not with the excess muscle weight that could result in a decrease in agility and slower reflexes.
De Gea is a wonderfully reactive goalkeeper. Unlike Casillas, or Joe Hart at Manchester City, he can’t be accused of sitting down too easily when an attacker dummies to shoot in a one-on-one before aiming high over the now immobile goalkeeper. He stays as large as possible until he has to commit, and has made some of the most spectacular saves of the season.
In other areas too, his improvement has been remarkable. De Gea’s height and anticipation help him to be excellent at claiming crosses, while his technique on the ball and distribution are amongst the best in his position worldwide.
Still, Real Madrid don’t quite conduct their business like any other club.
Who really knows what the fans of one of the world’s most bizarrely-run football clubs really think about their team’s transfer activity? Perhaps it is presumptuous to say that this possible signing of a world class goalkeeper with his best years still ahead of him is what they want. It is after all still an annual ritual for the supporters to flood the Bernabeu every summer to greet the latest Galacticos – shiny, expensive, attacking players that are (more often than not) not even really needed.
Last summer it was James Rodriguez and Toni Kroos, and previous years have seen Gareth Bale, Cristiano Ronaldo and other huge talents brought in and greeted as part of the Real Madrid hype machine. These big occasions, as they have become, now seem almost necessary to placate the Bernabeu crowd, who have not enjoyed as many ceremonies involving silverware come the end of the season; parading their new players has become the new open-top bus parade.
It might seem churlish to say this of a team that just won its tenth Champions League crown last season, but it was a long wait for the Spanish giants considering their huge spending. Meanwhile, the Ronaldo-led era of extremely expensive attacking talent has brought just one La Liga title in the last seven seasons, as confirmed with Barcelona sealing their latest triumph on Sunday.
Even the results yesterday seem to form a microcosm of everything wrong about the philosophy of the club, as Ronaldo’s individual brilliance (a hat-trick against Espanyol to become Real’s second highest scorer of all time) provided an ultimately meaningless 4-1 win against a resilient Barcelona performance to win 1-0 at Atletico Madrid – Spain’s most historically successful club have been unable to truly make the most of the Portuguese star by failing to adequately build a solid enough team around him.
While Barca have conceded just 19 goals all season in La Liga, Real have nearly double that (35), which is also more than three of the four teams directly below them in the table. Crazy amounts have been spent on largely unneeded players upfront when comparatively little has been invested at the back for a long, long time.
Sergio Ramos joined all the way back in 2005, Pepe in 2007, and Raphael Varane was signed on the cheap as a relatively unknown youngster. In recent times, Real also signed an over-the-hill Ricardo Carvalho from Chelsea, and re-signed Daniel Carvajal with a cheap buy-back clause from Bayer Leverkusen. Iker Casillas, of course, has been their number one for an amazing sixteen seasons now, despite being clearly past his best for perhaps the last three years.
Now 33, Casillas’ age and inevitable decline has seemingly forced Real to at last make a sensible signing – David de Gea has been the best goalkeeper in the Premier League and perhaps Europe this season, and can replicate Casillas in being the club’s number one for a decade or more.
With a truly world class shot-stopper, the job may not be done at the back, but a rebuilding process that should have started a long time ago can finally begin. More defenders are probably needed, but this change in direction can perhaps show that placing more value in some less spectacular performers can bring the parades at the end of the season, even if less of a party at the start.