The beauty of playing alongside world class team-mates is that mistakes can be glossed over by their brilliance – but only for so long. When Sir Alex Ferguson splashed £18.3M on goalkeeper David De Gea, the Manchester United manager knew it was an investment for the future. But the Spanish Under-21 international has made such a nervy start to life at Old Trafford that Ferguson could be forgiven for fearing De Gea would follow in the unfortunate footsteps of United goalkeeping flops Mark Bosnich and Massimo Taibi.

Without doubt, August has been a month to forget for De Gea. A shaky performance in the Community Shield against Manchester City sparked concerns. He was indecisive as Joleon Lescott headed home City’s first and the Spaniard then reacted far too late to Edin Dzeko’s long range strike, which should never have beaten his dive. A rousing second half United comeback deflected some of the negativity but, nonetheless, the critics sharpened their pencils with glee.


Worse was to follow on the opening weekend of the season. United were leading 1-0 at West Brom and in full control of the contest before De Gea allowed a tame Shane Long shot to sneak through his hands and into the far corner. The blunder breathed life into the Baggies, who bombarded the increasingly uncomfortable Spaniard with a barrage of crosses and long balls. Again, though, his team-mates stepped up to spare his blushes as Ashley Young crafted a winner with nine minutes to go.

This time, the headlines targeted De Gea, questioning his toughness and technique. Billed as the next Peter Schmeichel, the former Atletico Madrid shot-stopper was looking more like another Taibi. However, Ferguson kept faith with the youngster, explaining: “He is only 20 and he can deal with balls played into the box – the problem is that he has had no protection and that’s disappointing.”

Against Tottenham Hotspur, De Gea caught the eye with his calm distribution in the first half but it was his shaky handling that drew attention after the break. With United 2-0 up, the Spaniard dropped a regulation catch as he came from his line to collect a cross. Jermain Defoe pounced on the loose ball but crashed his shot against the post. Again, De Gea was let off the hook.

With former United keeper Edwin van der Sar watching from the directors’ box, his successor followed up this error with more loose handling, fumbling a tame Tom Huddlestone effort behind for a corner then almost spilling a long range shot into the path of Defoe. It was almost as if De Gea was trying to throw away the clean sheet.

United went on to clinch the three points, however title contenders cannot have weak links and De Gea is currently standing out as just that. As the late legendary manager Brian Clough once said: “A team with an OK goalkeeper is always looking over its shoulder – at the back of its mind, it’s thinking ‘it doesn’t matter what we do – the fella between the posts might make a mistake’.”

In his defence, the past month has been a whirlwind for the 20-year-old. Fresh from glory at the European Under 21 Championships with Spain, De Gea headed straight to the United States to join up with his United team-mates, meaning he has had just three weeks to come to terms with a new country, league, culture and language. It is hardly surprising that his head is still spinning.

But De Gea will receive no sympathy now that he is under the intense scrutiny that comes with life at United. Instead, he must adapt his game, toughen up in the gym and hit back at the doubters with improved performances.

Ferguson has been quick to defend his new keeper, issuing reminders that even Schmeichel took time to settle, and United have produced the quality going forward to bail the Spaniard out. However, if De Gea does not adjust quickly, it is only a matter of time before he starts costing the champions precious points.