There are two truths at this point in time that seem blatantly obvious but still remain as relevant as ever when it comes to this summer transfer window at Old Trafford.
1. Manchester United is still one of Europe’s biggest clubs.
2. David de Gea is Manchester United’s best player, and also its most important.
Sorry Angel Di Maria, sorry Wayne Rooney, there’s no debating that second point. The Spanish goalkeeper won Manchester United’s Player of the Year award last night at the team’s end of the season dinner, and if he hadn’t it would have been an upset of epic proportion.
The problem now is that De Gea is heavily rumored to be headed to Real Madrid this summer. The 24-year-old is from Madrid, and it’s said his fiancé Edurne Garcia is a driving force behind the move home as well. Now, all this could very well be a clever ploy by his agent to get a lucrative new deal at Old Trafford with his current one set to expire in a year’s time, but let’s pretend it’s not. If these rumors are true and De Gea is likely off to Real Madrid, Manchester United has a massive problem on its hands.
Why? Well besides the fact they’d be losing a hugely important piece of their squad – a given – big clubs don’t let their most important players go. They just don’t. With the Red Devils fending off an identity crisis already, that’s more applicable than ever in this situation.
This situation is also unique because the effect of De Gea’s loss is likely to be more off the field than on it. Goalkeepers don’t fetch nearly the price outfield players do (De Gea, one of the best in the world, is rumored to cost around $40 million) largely because the impact a top goalkeeper has is minimal compared to your average shot stopper. In essence, the difference between having someone like De Gea in net as compared to the next level down – for example, his rumored replacement Hugo Lloris – is marginal compared to the same gap as an outfield player, or at least the perception is that.
No, this is not about the money, or even the affect on the squad. Should Manchester United replace De Gea with Lloris (a goalkeeper who I believe to be potentially the best player in Europe not playing in the Champions League) they wouldn’t be losing a whole lot on the pitch, but the shock of allowing De Gea to depart would still signal a lingering issue at Old Trafford.
Ultimately, it would signal an inability of Manchester United to keep its best players happy at the club. Louis van Gaal orchestrated a return to the Champions League in his first season in charge, no small task. There is no reason someone of De Gea’s reputation – top 3 goalkeeper in the world to many – should be wanting out.
But don’t just take my word for it. “What is coming out of the club is quite worrying to be honest,” said former Manchester United star Paul Scholes. “It’s disappointing for United and disappointing for United fans because we know what a good goalkeeper he is from the last two years. It’ll take a lot to replace him.”
The bottom line is this: Louis van Gaal had a very successful first season at the helm, navigating injuries and a mish-mash squad to orchestrate a return to Champions League play. But there’s still a mountain to climb for the Dutchman before the Red Devils return to the Manchester United of old, and the path to the top is a long and arduous one that’s only just begun. The next step is keeping the club’s best and most important players. If van Gaal can’t convince David de Gea to stay, whatever his reasons are for leaving, there’s a serious problem that must be addressed immediately.