All football fans are scared of something. Be it fate, habit, man or beast. For some, there is the annual spectre of relegation looming in their thoughts; others are constantly afraid of snatching failure from the jaws of success – even after Wenger has left. At United, the fans are in most fear of an inanimate object. No, not Daley Blind, but the fax machine.
They dread the beep and whir of an official communication from Real Madrid Club de Futbol, pertaining to the purchase of David de Gea. The ineffectiveness of such an arcane form of communication famously (and fortuitously) put pay to a previous attempted coup, but it has since felt like a glitchy delay of the inevitable: the Spaniard’s return.
In their heart of hearts, even the most biased red would concede that for most of his seven year stint at the club, United have been punching with Dave. He has been far too good for the players around him, and deserves better in every respect. Undisputedly the best goalkeeper in the world, he has never had the merest sniff at a Champions League medal.
Allied to this, the Madrid native has made no secret of his desire to return home. A product of the Atletico Juvenil, it is obvious he’d have zero qualms about joining their local rivals at the Bernabeu – quite the opposite in fact. Real Madrid is a special draw to anyone of Iberian blood, never mind a son of their streets. Alas, there’s no place like home.
Everything calls him back: the sun, the glamour, the culture, the food, the very real prospect of European glory, and proximity to his long-term girlfriend Edurne Garcia – Manchester may be wonderful, but it can’t possibly compete with all of that. Thankfully for everyone associated with United, the stars — and fax toners — have failed to align…just yet.
Dave is 27 now, and more than served his time. He has remained extremely patient and serene in spite of the perma-transition going on before him. It would be extremely harsh for anyone of Old Trafford allegiance to do anything other than thank him wholeheartedly and wish him the very best were he to return to the city that reared him.
That said, perhaps it needn’t end that way. More so, perhaps it shouldn’t end that way.
Everyone has a story, but until the words are written – prior to the jets of ink hitting the fax roll – perspective can shift in a way that causes all future plans to jam and recalibrate. None of us are hostages to fortune forever; we eventually arrive at a point that allows us to push for what we most determinedly want. The only thing that can stop us is a change of mind.
De Gea arrived at the World Cup as the universally accepted number one number one, playing for the expert’s choice team to reign supreme. His neck may have been barren of ribbons, barring an FA Cup losers’ medal, but his chest was swollen from rave reviews and platitudes. If nothing else, Manchester always lets its heroes know they’re ace and appreciated.
Sadly, things in Russia did not pan out quite as he would have hoped.
Real Madrid, in their infinite and arrogant wisdom, chose to derail all of Spain’s best-laid plans by swooping for Julen Lopetegui – leading to his untimely sacking. This directly contributed to a disjointed and all-too-brief campaign under Fernando Hierro. They topped their group, but only managed a single victory – against Iran –
before losing to the hosts on penalties.
Of course such failure demanded a scapegoat, with Florentino Perez the obvious candidate. But no, the Spanish media rounded rather bizarrely on De Gea. He was condemned as ineffectual and weak – and the prime reason why his country only lasted a fortnight. So much so that Edurne received online abuse for her partner’s perceived failures.
Foremost in their criticism were Marca – famed for being Real’s media mouthpiece. Having identified De Gea as the convenient stooge to distract from Florentino’s sabotage, they got to work on building a negative narrative. Rating him the very lowest of all of Spain’s performers in Russia, they concluded that the United man had “lost his position as the country’s undisputed number one.”
Understandably, Dave was miffed. He succinctly and pointedly responded: “To whom supported, suffered and criticised us with respect, thanks. We’re f****d but we’ll get up again and never give up.” The apology was sincere, but so was the obvious irritation. United fans, old hands at providing sanctuary to World Cup bête
noires, advised he ‘fuck ’em and come home’.
That word again: home. There is nothing nice about being labelled a national failure. It is not a positive thing. We certainly didn’t want one of our own to be subjected to such torment. However, if there’s a silver lining to the cloud, it is that the greatest goalie in the world may now have a different sense of where he truly belongs — and where he can be most happy.
Dave did not deserve the very focused criticism he received. He was essentially thrown under the bus for the sins of others. In the process, he got a small taste of what he could face were he to swap Manchester for Madrid. Old Trafford enveloped him with love and support during his most vulnerable moments; Spain spat on his name for not stopping penalties.
You don’t need me to tell you how good our boy is – you already know. I could wax lyrical about how he has saved our skins time and time again. I could waste paragraphs expanding on the obvious — that he is quite possibly the closest that any of us will get to witnessing a real life superhero. But why try to articulate what you’ve seen with your own eyes?
We absolutely know and appreciate that we have a rare gem in our possession. And we never fail to let him and world know that. Each stunning save is celebrated like a winning goal, whilst the rare fumble is forgiven in an instant. You won’t find a bad word said of the man when he fails to reach a goal-bound effort — there’s no white
In targeting De Gea as an outlet for their pent up frustrations, perhaps the Spanish and Madrid-based media have done us a massive favour. Maybe they’ve caused our number one to reassess where he feels most comfortable and accepted. To use a quote often attributed to one of Manchester’s finest sons, it’s not where you’re from, it’s where you’re at.
Fuck ’em and come home, Dave. You’re safe with us just as much as we’re safe with you.
This article was taken from the RoM charity preview.
The RoM 2018-19 Season Preview is available for just £6. It includes an EXCLUSIVE interview with Juan Mata, a Q&A with the country's top journalists, articles by brilliant United writers, and so much more. All profit goes to Trafford Macmillan so please support this fantastic cause.