Erik ten Hag had doubts about David de Gea from day one as Manchester United manager, but towards the end of last season there came a point of no return. Last summer, Ten Hag became the first coach to conclude he had inherited bigger problems than a goalkeeper who wasn’t entirely comfortable with the ball at his feet and instead spent his transfer budget on a centre-back, a left-back, a midfielder and a winger.
When Ten Hag sat down with director of football John Murtough earlier this year to decide how to spend this summer’s money, the consensus was that he could live with De Gea as his No1 for another year. But then he changed his mind.
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Errors against Sevilla, West Ham and in the FA Cup final against Manchester City convinced Ten Hag it was time for a move. Ultimately, it was De Gea who announced his retirement on Saturday, but only after realizing his role would have been greatly reduced had he stayed. De Gea’s social media posts were quickly followed by a club statement in which Murtough said De Gea would “leave Manchester United with the deepest respect and warmest appreciation of everyone associated with the club”. But Ten Hag will be relieved that he’s gone.
If he has his way, Inter goalkeeper Andre Onana will take De Gea’s place, though a compromise on the transfer fee has yet to be found. United are looking for other targets while Dean Henderson, who has returned from loan at Nottingham Forest, is also under consideration but Onana is Ten Hag’s first choice having worked together at Ajax.
Ahead of the Champions League final, Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola labeled Onana as one of Inter’s most dangerous players due to the positions he can take. During the game in Istanbul, the Cameroonian international occasionally sauntered into midfield with the ball at his feet. Despite all of De Gea’s attributes, particularly his ability as a Reflex Shotstopper, it’s something he’s never been able to grapple with. For the same reason, he was dropped by former Spain coach Luis Enrique ahead of the European Championships and wasn’t even included in the squad for the World Cup in Qatar.
De Gea said on Saturday it was “time for a new challenge”, but the question is where? The game has evolved since Real Madrid desperately tried to sign him from United in the summer of 2015 and even now that he’s a free agent few top clubs will pick up the phone. Most managers across Europe will share Ten Hag’s opinion.
At the start of last season, Ten Hag and Murtough decided they would not automatically extend De Gea’s contract by a year worth around £375,000 a week and would instead negotiate a longer deal at reduced wages. Talks were positive and at one point an agreement was close – although United insist a formal contract offer was never made – but when De Gea struggled in April and May Ten Hag became more confident he could even come up with a limited one Contract offer would work together Due to Financial Fair Play restrictions, a new goalkeeper would have to be a priority in the transfer window as the summer budget is not available due to Financial Fair Play restrictions.
De Gea made a terrible mistake against West Ham, letting Said Benrahma’s feeble shot slip through his fingers, but it was his performance in the Europa League game against Sevilla that highlighted the bigger problem. Twice he was caught with the ball on his foot and United lost 3-0. Ten Hag defended his goalkeeper from public criticism after West Ham and Sevilla, but after the FA Cup final defeat by Man City, Ten Hag changed his tone.
“Put it this way: We’re on the right track,” he said. “But there are situations in the game, problems in the game that we definitely need to improve if we want to take the next step and win trophies.”
Despite the sluggish end to his United career, De Gea will – eventually – be remembered as a club legend. With 545 appearances, he ranks seventh on the all-time list and his four Player of the Year awards in 2014, 2015, 2016 and 2018 are surpassed only by Cristiano Ronaldo. He was among the last United team to win the Premier League title under Sir Alex Ferguson in 2013 and surpassed Peter Schmeichel’s record for most goals conceded in United history in February. Last season he had 17 players in the Premier League to win his second Golden Glove.
It’s unfortunate that De Gea walked off the pitch with little fanfare after his last game at Old Trafford because at the time he still believed he would be back next season. Even Bruno Fernandes said in his farewell message posted on social media that De Gea “deserved to say goodbye at the stadium while all the fans are cheering for all the good memories.”
Many fans will agree with Fernandes that it’s a sad end to a great United career, but most will also agree with Ten Hag that it’s time to move on.