No player seems more exposed to the debate in the Spanish team than David de Gea, goalkeeper of fame since his youth.
As it was presumed, he has become a figure at Manchester United, where the fans have chosen him best player of the team in four of the last five years. It is a great tour. It is clear that De Gea has fulfilled the enormous expectations he had raised. However, his performance in the national team has gone from worrying to disturbing.
De Gea is more than just a goalkeeper. He represents one of the two current shot-stoppers that characterize the goalkeepers since the radical change of the rules in 1991. Law of the offside aside, there has been no more important evolution in the last 100 years. Without demanding it and without deserving it, goalkeepers were given a regressive role in football. They functioned as the symbol of slow and speculative football, applied as never before in the World Cup in Italy 90.
The change in regulation meant the loss of a defensive solution – picking with the hands all the passes that their teams wanted – in exchange for a participation in the game that required a minimum of skill with the feet. FIFA added more feet to the goalkeepers and withdrew some of their manual privileges. They were disqualified from receiving with their hands. Suddenly, the great football specialist – that had been the condition of the goalkeepers for more than a century – had to venture into the vast and unknown territory of the other players.
It is very difficult to be a goalkeeper these days, a requirement that affects growing market price. This year they have paid 80 million euros for the transfers of Arrizabalaga to Chelsea and Alisson to Liverpool. It seems logical. A goalkeeper is now an army knife. It has a very high number of functions, especially for coaches who intend to integrate them into the game as if they were just another player, without losing the old factor that defined the goalkeeper, they are there to stop. Guardiola, Klopp, and Sarri belong to this current trend. Without this kind of new goalkeepers, their projects would get hurt.
De Gea defends the goal of Manchester United and directs Jose Mourinho, whose model is close to the traditional goalkeeper in the small area, near the goal, and with a populated defensive line. This way of interpreting the goalkeeper has been canonical in England, with a disappointing effect for his football. Everything indicates that the future conspires against this archetype, which De Gea belongs to after seven years in the Premier League.
It is very likely that De Gea would have evolved differently in another team, in another football environment, and with other technicians. But right now he represents the previous line of the goalkeeper, more reaction than anticipation, closer to the goal line than to the line of the goal. Large area, with power but without dexterity in the foot, spectacular for the stops he makes and questionable for the shots he allows. One of his main problems, perhaps the greatest of all, is that he represents a model that collides with the current school of the national team. During his four years as a starter with Spain, De Gea has never given the impression of comfort. His body asks for one thing and the team, another. It is a difficult equation to solve that has ended up affecting his confidence.