David de Gea is the best goalkeeper in the world but he had a rocky start to life at Manchester United. De Gea couldn’t believe that the club were interested in him and knew he had a lot to do to improve his game after moving to the Premier League.
Ferguson took a huge risk. He had the courage to give me that jersey. Ferguson was blunt. He told me I had to adapt; it was going to be hard and there would be bumps in the road.
I recall reading about United’s interest and I didn’t believe it at first. They wanted a replacement for Van der Sar, a 40-year-old who had such experience, and there was me – just a kid. We knew there would be challenges.
The papers and rival fans crucified De Gea in his first season, with newspapers running with the headlines ‘Jeepers Keepers’. His first game was in the Community Shield against Manchester City when he conceded a soft goal but thankfully United went on to win 3-2. His first league game was against West Brom when he let in an easily saveable shot from Shane Long but again United came back to win 2-1. De Gea has reflected on the early days.
Oh my God. It was a brutal start. West Brom saw this Spanish kid in goal. So they did the sensible thing – they launched high, long balls and challenged me physically. I knew I had to change but I needed time and experience.
It was really hard – a new country, a dressing room where I didn’t know a soul and a language I could barely speak a word of. I was really young. Most kids are just starting university and I was in a dressing room of people who expected to win not just every game but every match in training.
We had a hugely experienced defence – icons like Rio Ferdinand, Nemanja Vidic and Patrice Evra. I remember Rio and Paddy telling me, “OK, fine, you’re young, but this is Manchester United. We only accept the best”.