While browsing the depths of Twitter today, I stumbled upon this gem supposedly from Arsenal goalkeeper Manuel Almunia:

A little further prying led to the realization that this was a fake account, saving Almunia from the ridicule of football fans everywhere when they pointed out that Almunia has no business giving goaltending tips to anyone given that he can’t even hold down Arsenal’s starting goalkeeper job.

This post by some Arsenal fanboy (who clearly has come to terms with his team’s declining fortunes rather poorly), plus my membership on Manchester United’s fan forums where David de Gea is being ripped a new arsehole by supposed Manchester United supporters, has lead me to write this post in defense of de Gea.

Before you declare me a hypocrite, I will admit that I am disappointed by the goals de Gea has let in against Manchester City and West Brom.  But I’m not angry.  I’m not calling him a failure or questioning his ability to fit in at United.  I’m disappointed.  That means I expected more, but have been unpleasantly surprised by the way things have actually panned out.  I’m not about to tear de Gea apart just because of a couple bad goals.

David de Gea while playing for Atletico Madrid in La Liga.

Let’s look at some facts here.  David de Gea is 20 years old and far from the finished product as a goaltender.  He just moved from Spain not even six weeks ago and is still learning how to speak English on a team where very few, if any, players speak the same dialect of Spanish as de Gea.

Some more facts.  Manchester United have been blessed with a string of great goalkeepers over their history, most recently Peter Schmeichel and Edwin van der Sar.  Manchester United is one of the biggest clubs on the planet (if not the biggest) and their fans have very high expectations of the club and the players.  It is safe to say that anything short of a 20th Premier League title this season will be considered a failure.

So, where in this maelstrom of contrasting expectations is it reasonable to expect de Gea to be absolutely perfect?  When was it decided that one bad goal or one bad game is enough to turn supporters who should, by any stretch of logic, be cheering for you and supporting you against you as virulently as some have been turning on de Gea?  It might just be a symptom of the 21st century world of sports where fans want to see immediate results from big-money purchases (remember that de Gea cost United 18-million Pounds to sign), but it is wrong nonetheless.

De Gea, while young, comes backed with all the promise in the world and comparisons to many great goalkeepers.  But like any promise shown by any player, it is called promise for a reason.  It is called promise because it needs time to blossom into skill.  Promise does not equal skill, as some people seem to believe.  It does take time, or the right environment, to move a player from the promising youngster category – which de Gea now occupies – to the established starter category – where de Gea will someday be.

Sir Alex Ferguson: The mastermind behind United's past 12 Premier League Championships.

Now, I’m not usually one to question Sir Alex Ferguson’s methods.  In fact, much of my thinking about the Man United squad that can be found in this post has been reflected in Sir Alex’s actions and statements.  However, given the facts that I related about de Gea above, I might have taken a different tack with regards to his deployment early in the season.  After all, United do have Anders Lindegaard who was signed last January waiting in the wings.  Lindegaard has had plenty of time to adapt to life in England and the rigours of playing for Manchester United, not to mention he has looked very assured in the few appearances that he has made for the club.  Allowing de Gea more time to settle in a bit better and familiarizing himself to the coaching of Eric Steele (by many accounts one of the top goalkeeping coaches in the world) while getting a few games here and there could have been very beneficial to his progress.  Instead, the ripping he is taking from the fans could be enough to shatter his confidence.

But I digress.  The point here isn’t to question the players or the manager – after all United did win the game despite losing Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic to injury – but to promote patience, understanding, and support.  When United bought a 20 year old keeper, they and the fans knew that there would be a learning curve.  Although de Gea has played over 100 times for Atletico Madrid and received a number of age-grade caps for Spain, neither is Manchester United.

Everybody involved with de Gea’s transfer in any way – whether as the player, the manager, the club, or the fans – knew this.  Therefore, it should not come as a surprise when there are growing pains and there is no cause to verbally abuse the player in the way some people have been doing.

As one poster on the Manchester United forums stated, when a player plays for your club you support them, whether they play good or bad, for as long as they play for the club.  You don’t have to like them, but you do have to support them.

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