In a season of change and turmoil at Manchester United, one man has remained a constant. 23 year old Spanish goalkeeper David De Gea has been the first name on the team sheet, and the most consistent performer of an ever-changing defensive unit. In a squad filled of players who are simply mediocre, De Gea is one of the few exceptions.
In his third season at Old Trafford, De Gea has continued to develop, and showcase his world-class talent, having arguably his best season yet. Unfortunately for the former Atletico Madrid shot-stopper, his efforts this season have all been in vain. United are on course for their worst season in De Gea’s lifetime, the expected title challenge never materialised, and with four games remaining, a place in Europe is even in doubt.
It’s a time of change at the biggest club in the world, and the departures last summer of iconic manager Alex Ferguson, long time chief executive David Gill, and legendary midfielder Paul Scholes, have clearly taken their toll. To top that off, Ferguson’s replacement David Moyes future is shrouded in uncertainty, and many more senior players seem set to leave.
The current captain Nemanja Vidic has agreed a transfer to Inter Milan, while his regular stand-in Patrice Evra has suggested that for ‘personal reasons’, he will also leave the club. This ramps the club’s rebuilding process up a couple of notches, and forces decisions to be made. At the top of the priority list will be deciding on what current players are going to make up the core of the next great squad, and from within that group, which player will become captain.
Since he signed his latest long term, mega money contract back in February, most have assumed that Wayne Rooney would be the man to inherit that role. Rooney though, is prone to bouts of discontent, and drops in fitness and form. On two occasions in the past four years, he has expressed his desire to leave the club, and you’ve got to question whether such a history allows him to be a credible candidate.
There’s no doubt that Rooney can be an inspiring figure, but if there are tough times ahead, is his the voice that Manchester United would want in their players ears? Rooney skippered the team yesterday against Everton, and you’d have to wonder whether that is the best strategy for the future. Some of the best captains can be players with steady heads, level personalities, and a desire to do their talking on the pitch. This criteria would make De Gea an ideal candidate to take on one of the most revered roles at the club.
When he first signed, the Spaniard was prone to high profile errors, but this season in spite of his back four giving him more work to do than ever before, he has been the picture of consistency. Of all clubs, United should remember the hazards of searching for a world class goalkeeper, having made many misguided signings in the past. With that in mind, their priority should be to have a young and dynamic goalkeeper like De Gea commit to the club, and for him to do that, the club will likely have to commit to him.
What better way to guard off the long term attention of the likes of Real Madrid and Barcelona in De Gea’s native Spain, than to embed him into the culture of Manchester United and make him the face of the club. As he continues to mature, he is growing more vocal, so that should be of no concern to his prospects, and on the pitch his hands have become much steadier, as his instinct now appears to be catching the ball, rather than the continental punched clearance.
Traditionally the captain is a role best served by a player in position to survey the play and get their message across to the players, and the goalkeeper, as a position, is well suited to such a task. Some of the greatest captains in the history of the game stood between the posts, from Iker Casillas and Gianluigi Buffon in the modern era, to the legendary Dino Zoff and Lev Yashin in days gone by. There’s no reason why De Gea couldn’t be the next in line either.
On Sunday at Goodison Park, De Gea made his 90th league appearance for the club, and unlike many others currently on United books, it’s in their best interests that he makes hundreds more. De Gea has just over two years remaining on his current deal, and if I was in charge, the first thing I’d do is put a new contract in one hand, and the captain’s armband in the other.
What do you think? Who would you make the next United captain? Let me know in the comments below.