With tears rushing down his face, David de Gea broke-off an eight-year marriage with hometown club Atletico Madrid in late June. A 20-year-old custodian, De Gea hardly fits the bill of established superstar, but when one of the world’s biggest clubs come calling, the offer is rarely rebuffed. Still uncapped at senior level for Spain despite the plaudits, De Gea headed north to Manchester United, 2011 Premier League winners and UEFA Champions League finalists.

It is not easy being a young goalkeeper in Spain. Playing in the same country as the world’s best shot-stopper Iker Casillas is a task and a half, as many younglings have tried – and failed – to emulate the World Cup winner’s achievements on the pitch. Names such as Sergio Asenjo, David Lopez, Manuel Almunia and even Jose Reina have all been sponsored at some point as the next custodian of La Furia Roja, but none could dislodge Real Madrid’s captain.

Joining the youth ranks of Atletico Madrid at the tender age of 10, De Gea spent his first seven seasons playing for the team’s lower sides, before gaining promotion for the 2009/10 season to Atletico Madrid B, the club’s second-tier squad playing their football in Spain’s third division. Soon though, with the senior side’s first choice keeper Sergio Asenjo away on international duty, young De Gea was called up as deputy for Roberto with Atletico Madrid’s first team.

As is often the case with all blossoming and potential-filled goalkeepers, De Gea’s chance could only present itself via unexpected conditions. With Roberto picking up an injury early into Atletico’s Champions League match against FC Porto, all eyes at the Estadio do Dragao contemplated the skinny 18-year old making his first-team debut on such a stage. The Mattress Makers eventually lost 2-0 to the home side, but excitement was surely up in the air as Europe witnessed the birth of a star.

Roberto’s fortunes did not seem to improve and De Gea earned another starting berth three days later against Real Zaragoza. The young custodian did not benefit from beginner’s luck as he conceded a penalty, but redeemed himself at once by saving the resulting spot-kick: “I felt the fans were right behind me with every save I made", said the promising shot-stopper post match, beaming with joy. "To make my full debut at the Vicente Calderon was something very special. The team won and I stopped a penalty; I felt really comfortable between the posts."

Soon, the self-confessed Edwin van der Sar fan became a cult figure at his own stomping ground, with fans hoping that he would grow into a superstar around whom a defensive unit could be firmly set up for the future. Asenjo’s decline in form and former coach Quique Sanchez Flores’ invested faith in De Gea meant that the young goalkeeper finished the 2009/10 season as the team’s first choice guardian, helping Atletico clinch the first ever Europa League trophy, seeing off English side Fulham in extra time.

Atletico Madrid were back in the limelight after clinching their first major trophy in fourteen years, and it was natural that the name of David de Gea started headlining the tabloids across Spain and Europe. The young keeper was considerably marketed as the “new Iker Casillas” by the Spanish media, with publications across the country even going as far as to push his name as one of the three keepers that Vicente del Bosque should pick for the 2010 FIFA World Cup.

However, Los Colchoneros could not repeat their feats of 2010 in the next campaign and endured a torrid 2010/11 term after dispatching Internazionale in the 2010 UEFA Super Cup. Relations between Sanchez Flores and the club soon disintegrated, and the coach’s much-publicised disputes with some members of the squad – notably Diego Forlan – coupled with poor results saw the former Benfica boss shown the door. However, during these tumultuous times, De Gea’s stock continued to rise as one of the few shining jewels in an empty mining facility. Indeed, at times when all others at the Vicente Calderon seemed to be losing their heads, De Gea kept his.

The shot-stopper’s good form as the season drew to a close earned him a place in Luis Milla’s Under-21 Spanish national team, as La Rojita prepared for the 2011 UEFA Under-21 Championship in Denmark. Touted as favourites before the start of the tournament, the team clinched the title due to the efforts of De Gea and World Cup winners Juan Mata and Javi Martinez, amongst others.

With Manchester United goalkeeping legend Edwin van der Sar poised to retire at the end of the previous campaign, it was no secret that the Red Devils were on the lookout for an adequate replacement. Their interest in De Gea had been heavily documented, and the English champions proved able to ultimately bind him to a contract until 2016 in a deal worth £18.9M: “I feel very proud and I can’t wait to start playing here”, affirmed the player following his move to Old Trafford. “When a club the size of Manchester United comes in for you, it obviously makes you very, very happy. I’m keen to do my best and show what I can do."

For his part, United boss Sir Alex Ferguson was more than pleased with his new custodian: “He’s a young goalkeeper, very quick, good composure, presence and an outstanding replacement for Van der Sar. We were looking for the same type of qualities as Edwin, because the one great quality Edwin always had was his composure and organisational ability."

Succeeding the man he grew up idolising, “David van de Gea” – as he was nicknamed by his former Atletico team-mates – starts a fresh chapter in his book at the newly-crowned 19-time Premier League winners. Manchester United failed to adequately replace the legendary Peter Schmeichel upon his exit from Old Trafford in 1999 until Van der Sar landed, and with De Gea, the Red Devils will be hoping for a minimal trial-and-error period. The Premier League’s bright lights will soon shine on the slender shot-stopper; the signs are he can handle it.