Soccer / old traford
Should Manchester United Sell David de Gea?
Given the pseudo-religiosity of the "Dave Saves" rhetoric, it feels almost heretical to question Manchester United's perennial messiah David de Gea, and yet, call me Richard Dawkins if you will, in pondering openly whether we may have already seen the best of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's undisputed number one, that's exactly the position I find myself in. Reflexes of prophetic alacrity have slowed to mere reactions, godly infallibility has been tainted by human error, and doubt has sullied the once certain; or at least that is my impression. For this feeling, this nagging doubt, this lunacy, call it what you will, isn't grounded in the objective rigour of empiricism but rather in the selective bias of subjectivity. Hence, with de Gea "reportedly" holding out for an Alexis Sanchez sized pay packet and with the PSG vultures circling overhead, now would seem an opportune moment to step back and consider whether my impression bears any relation to fact and whether therefore Manchester United should consider selling their best player. Guess what? Of the goalkeepers representing the Big 6 Premier League sides, David de Gea has the lowest whoscored rating for the 2018/19 Premier League season. Hurrah vindication - the answer to whether Manchester United should sell David de Gea is a resounding YES. I WAS RIGHT. Wait, what d'ya mean you doubt the validity of a scale which rates de Gea's average performance level as inferior to that of Matteo Darmian? Have it your own way, we'll plough on if we must. But first, let it be known that I'm none too happy about having the certainty of my convictions subjected to excessive amounts of analytical rigour. Indeed, it soon transpires that thanks to this unwelcome coercion (you idiot Eoghan - coercion is by its very definition unwelcome) I, like Al Gore, am soon forced to confront a slightly inconvenient truth. Of the Big 6's first choice goalkeepers, de Gea on average makes comfortably the most saves per match (3.42). But, never fear, for like I said this is only slightly inconvenient, or if you can stomach the superciliousness - a mere pimple on the otherwise smooth highway of my reasoning. I say this (like a pompous jerk) because the comparative leakiness of United's rearguard under Mourinho makes such a statistical outcome all but inevitable and as a result, renders any conclusions based solely on such data superficial. Much more amenable to my hypothesis is the insight provided by save percentage data - indeed with so much to recommend it I think we should agree that henceforth save percentage can be considered as essentially analogous to a deeper more profound truth. What's that? You'd prefer to make up your own minds. Okay then, have it your own way, but to my mind, the fact that de Gea ranks a lowly fourth on 71.14% raises the question as to whether Ed Woodward would dream of sanctioning a £500,000 per week salary for the demonstrably superior Bernd Leno (72.81%). While anything's possible in a wage market where Jesse Lingard can earn £100,000+ per week, even Ed might have second thoughts after learning of Leno's proclivity for making crucial errors. Indeed, in the race for the coveted Loris Karius slippery mittens award, the Arsenal stopper's 3 goal-costing errors place him alongside, somewhat ironically, Alisson, as the men to catch (or not). How, did I start this paragraph again? Oh yeah, by effectively promising irrefutable proof of my hypothesis that David de Gea is in decline. Well, let's just strike that from the record, for I may have been a little hasty. In reality, all we have learned is that while David de Gea's 2018/19 level, even in a less than vintage year for Premier League goalkeeping, is less than standout, it nevertheless remains broadly comparable with those of his Big 6 peers. Given the sensationalist premise, pretty humdrum stuff. I'm afraid that things don't get any more exciting when the aperture of our comparative lens is narrowed from comparing David de Gea with his peers to comparing David de Gea with past incarnations of, well, David de Gea. It turns out, that in terms of crucial errors made and save percentage that the Spaniard's figures for this season are broadly in line with those of his Old Trafford career to date. So, he's plateauing then? Or perhaps a victim of his own consistency? Well, yes and no. If you cast your mind back to last season, you may recall the statistical brouhaha surrounding the number of Manchester United's points which were attributable to de Gea's excellence alone. Taken on surface value, the figures, in truth, seemed scarcely credible and had the effect of portraying de Gea as the goalkeeping template for Nietzsche's ubermensch. However, it must be remembered that freakish goalkeeping statistics are defined by, well, their freakishness, or in statistical parlance, by their unsustainability. As such is it unreasonable to suggest that de Gea may struggle to ever replicate last season's career-best save percentage (80.42%), or the career-best total of zero errors, or the career-best disparity between Manchester United's expected goals against (43.54) and actual goals against (28)? And, If not, is it, therefore, beyond the pale to contemplate whether we may have already witnessed "career-best de Gea"? Okay, Okay, I'm aware that we are bargaining in conjecture here, but deliberately so, because a similarly speculative gambit is central to the delicate contractual balance, between future performance and future pay, that Manchester United are (probably not) trying to strike at present in negotiations with de Gea. A bloated remuneration package capable of servicing third world debt at a canter cannot be negotiated on the basis of a YouTube highlight reel, AGAIN. Now, with de Gea's performances to date this season seeming to provide a somewhat reliable statistical benchmark from which to project future performance, the question, therefore, becomes whether this level is worth £500,000 per week. Even this constitutes something of an oversimplification. How will age affect de Gea? Manuel Neuer, once widely feted as the world's best, is, at 33, a shadow of his former self. Saint Iker Casillas was dropped by Jose Mourinho at 31 and has never really recovered. Petr Cech was deposed by Thibault Courtois at 32. Yes, yes, I know what you're thinking ..... Gianluigi Buffon .... but even if his overall level has remained within the elite bracket until recently, he reached his outright peak as long ago as the mid-2000s. Despite what the mythology of eternal youth suggests keepers generally peak in their twenties. Don't believe me? Well, of those rivalling de Gea for the status of world's best, Marc-Andre Ter Stegen is 26, Jan Oblak is 26, Thibault Courtois is 26, Alisson is, 26, and Ederson is 25 - all are in their mid-twenties and all, significantly, are younger than David de Gea. Don't get me wrong, I'm not suggesting that de Gea is going to degenerate into Joe Hart overnight, just that 28, even in goalkeeping years, isn't as young as it may seem. Indeed, with 30 fast approaching, how long before lining out for a club whose very fabric is shrinking in a hot wash cycle of soapy ineptitude spins de Gea into a demotivating whirl, before the pressure of holding the whole shaky edifice together crushes his resolve, or before the thought of losing another season to "transition" finally gnaws away at the last of his patience? How soon is now? Reports have already suggested that de Gea was "fed up" with Mourinho during the end days of the Portuguese' saturnine demise. What if ...... and bear with me here ...... such cheek-puffing exasperation was, in fact, symptomatic of a more profound sense of disillusionment, what if it signalled that not only was de Gea "fed up" with Mourinho but with the institution itself, with Manchester Utd? Sure that's a bit of a stretch, but by the same measure do you really reckon that one of the world's best goalkeepers is content with scrambling desperately for a Champions League berth each and every year? Demanding a GDP-scaled wage may be a legitimate case of de Gea seeking a pay packet which reflects his worth or it may be just another way of saying I want out. Again, I know, conjecture; but putting that caveat to one side, one thing I think we can all accept is that wantaway players seldom perform. With that in mind, ask yourself whether you think de Gea would play for Real Madrid for less. I don't know about you, but personally speaking, I'm in no doubt that he would and that that represents a problem for Manchester United. So, de Gea, even if he isn't getting any younger, isn't yet old and he may or may not be fully committed to the club, is that all you've got? Well, if the arguments made heretofore have yet to win you over, let's see how you handle this curveball; David de Gea is a footballing relic out of step with the modern game. Okay, maybe I've lost my marbles in the sanitarium's playroom, I mean, what other reason (or lack thereof) could there be for claiming that perhaps the best goalkeeper in the world is somehow also outdated, right? Wrong, there are actually a number of reasons why in return for de Gea, Pep would never swap Ederson, nor Klopp Alisson, nor Valverde Ter Stegen. None, for example, would tolerate a pass completion rate of 64.22% from their keeper. Yet, that figure represents the pinnacle of de Gea's career in terms of passing accuracy. An unflattering statistic, which belies its cherrypicked advantage, to remain resolutely unimpressive even when compared against the passing accuracy of his Big 6 goalkeepers peers from this season alone. On that note, by way of explicit comparison, Bernd Leno's 69.38% is the second worst, while Kepa Arrizabalaga's Xavi-esque 87.29% is the best to date. At the cutting edge of thinking on football, the modernist paradigm shift surrounding goalkeeping is essentially indebted to the playground notion of "fly-goalie". Increasingly, therefore goalkeepers are considered not as failed footballers but rather as a hitherto unused extra man and even as tactical lynchpins. Consequently, going forward, the question is whether de Gea is a good enough footballer to afford Manchester United the tactical versatility that Ederson, for example, lends Manchester City. There is nothing, I'm afraid to say, to suggest that he is. Admittedly, with Ole Gunnar Solskjaer seeming to favour counterpunching off the backfoot, the limits of de Gea's passing repertoire may not be stretched to breaking point for now, but there will come a point when they will be. Persisting with de Gea until that time does inevitably arrive means to risk the Spaniard becoming a symbol of the plight which has beset the club in recent years - of standing still as modernity rushes by. So back to the titular question then; should Manchester United sell David de Gea? Well, personally speaking, I find the doom-mongering prophesies foretelling of an apocalyptic post de Gea Old Trafford just a trifle hyperbolic, or at least I did until I realised that Ed Woodward would be responsible for securing the Spaniard's replacement. I can see how it ends now; Ed puffing up with pride as a curtain emblazoned with the legend "Mission Accomplished" falls to reveal United new number 1 - Gareth f**king Bale. Forget what I said David, I wasn't thinking straight, I'm begging you - please don't leave us.