When FIFA released their shortlist for the top three goalkeepers in the world, there was a glaringly obvious omission from that list. That omission was Manchester United’s David de Gea. A goalkeeper who has comfortably performed to a high enough standard to warrant his name on the list.
On the shortlist, FIFA named Manuel Neuer (Bayern Munich), Gianluigi Buffon (Juventus) and Keylor Navas (Real Madrid). Three fantastic goalkeepers in their own right, but there is a clear case to suggest De Gea should have made the cut.
Over the past three seasons, the Spanish number one has elevated his performance to a world-class level. Slowly but surely, De Gea has learnt how to play in England and how to reach the summit of the game.
When he came to England, De Gea was a feeble 21 year old with no experience outside of Spain. Of course it was going to be not only a culture shock, playing for Manchester United, but also a difference in playing style – especially for a goalkeeper.
The Spaniard struggled to dominate his area and was continuously caught out as teams would plant a man on De Gea at set-pieces to case havoc. It worked.
Sir Alex Ferguson was reportedly understood to have been so concerned with De Gea’s performances four months in to his career at the Red Devils that he tried to convince Edwin van der Sar to come out of retirement.
However, De Gea began to understand what was needed of him at Manchester United and quickly adapted. He raised his game tenfold, locked down the number one jersey and has not looked back since.
From 2013-14 to 2015-16, De Gea won the Sir Matt Busby Player of the Year Award at Manchester United. Not only the first goalkeeper to win it, but the first player to ever win it three times. A truly sensational achievement.
It was not handed out to him on a whim, either. De Gea was truly United’s only world-class player throughout the David Moyes and Louis van Gaal eras. He demanded respect every time he played.
A game that comes to mind was Manchester United against Liverpool under Moyes in late 2014. The Red Devils romped to a 3-0 win, but it was not one of their attacker’s that got the limelight from that game. It was De Gea. A night where he took what was expected of him and hit it out of the park. That was the night where there was no turning back: De Gea was world-class.
While FIFA judge their three-man shortlist on the last year, it is important also to remember the goalkeepers’ careers. Perhaps this is the reason as to why Neuer made the cut. There is no doubting he is a superb player, but in the past 12 months, you would not have claimed he has set the world alight.
For Buffon and Navas, it is simple: they both reached a Champions League final and won their domestic titles. Both goalkeepers have been superb and deserve their place on that three-man shortlist. No debate there, whatsoever.
Neuer might have won his domestic title for Bayern, but that is what is expected of that club in Germany. There might be competition in Borussia Dortmund this season, but the Munich-based club won the Bundesliga by 15 points, with an unfamiliar and newly-promoted RB Leipzig their closest challengers.
While De Gea did not win the Premier League, he was still a hugely bright spark in the Man United team throughout the domestic season. But what should have made the difference for De Gea is the ability to keep consistent concentration, even when he is largely not part of the game.
Throughout the last season, when Neuer was not injured, we saw a vast amount of mistakes from the German international. Silly errors from taking too long to clear his lines from a back-pass, or trying to skill past players and play it dangerously, Neuer has been proven to be somewhat a liability.
De Gea has his head switched on at all times and has not made a self-inflicted mistake for years now. When called upon, the Spaniard is there waiting, ready to find a solution to the problem.
Perhaps the exclusion of Champions League football for De Gea cost him his place in the three-man shortlist, but it will be devastating if he misses out next year as well, providing he carries on this level of performance.
De Gea is a world-class goalkeeper and still only 26 years old – a relatively young age for a player in his position and barley touching his prime years. He will be Spain’s number one for a long time and, providing they can keep Real Madrid’s hands off, he will be for Manchester United too.