Skip to content

Manchester United must be ruthless – it’s time to move on from David De Gea

Many will think that David de Gea should have done better for Man City's second in the FA Cup final - Getty Images/James Williamson
Many will think that David de Gea should have done better for Man City’s second in the FA Cup final – Getty Images/James Williamson

In less than four weeks’ time, David De Gea’s contract runs out at Manchester United. There is a new deal on the table, and he wants to stay, but United should be signing a new first-choice goalkeeper.

Unfortunately for De Gea it is about diminishing returns. Even if he signs he will no longer be United’s highest-paid player, although quite how he secured that status in the first place is an indictment of the club.

Dave Saves? Well, the brutal truth is that it is happening less and less and he was at fault for the goal that Ilkay Gundogan bounced past him to secure the FA Cup and the second leg of Manchester City matching United’s Treble.

The argument in De Gea’s favor is that he was relatively unseen as the volley came through a thicket of players but top-class goalkeepers made that save.

Instead De Gea was not set – a common criticism of him – when the corner was flown out to the City captain on the edge of the penalty area, even though he had time to anticipate the shot that was inevitably coming from Gundogan’s weaker foot. De Gea was then slow to react as the ball bounced not just once but twice.

Little wonder that Erik ten Hag took a long hard look at the monitor in his technical area at how the goal was scored. He will not have liked what he saw and it should have made his mind up. If it wasn’t already. His face said it all.

De Gea got a glove to the ball but it was not enough and it capped a campaign in which United’s perceived strongest link, not so long ago, has become a serious weakness in the chain. The 32-year-old’s greatest attribute, the one that was said to over-ride his lack of ability with the ball at his feet – such a pre-requisite in the modern game – was that he was a ‘good shot-stopper’ ‘.

In fact for the past three seasons he has dipped below a save percentage of 70 percent in the Premier League – 69.93 this campaign, 68.85 in the previous one and 65.22 before that. In seven of the nine seasons before that it was above the mark. The trajectory is emphatically in the wrong direction.

De Gea still won the Golden Glove for the most clean sheets – 17, two ahead of Liverpool’s Alisson – but that is an anomaly. United conceded 43 times in the league – 10 more than City or Newcastle United.

So there needs to be a ruthlessness at United. Ten Hag has already said that he cannot guarantee De Gea the number one spot and having made that statement it is not a leap to suggest that it is time to cut the ties or sign a better first-choice. De Gea’s country, Spain, have long moved on from him. So should his club.

United are in the market for a goalkeeper who is more comfortable in building possession and is more reliable. But it is not a priority. It has to be.

Undeniably De Gea has cost United. He was badly at fault in their chaotic exit from the Europa League, as they folded in the second leg of their quarter-final away to Sevilla with an unwise pass to put Harry Maguire under pressure that led to the first goal and a rash intervention for the third.

De Gea was hugely responsible for Manchester United's exit from the Europa League in April - Getty Images/Ash Donelon

De Gea was hugely responsible for Manchester United’s exit from the Europa League in April – Getty Images/Ash Donelon

Even in making his 540th appearance in goal for United, overtaking Alex Stepney’s record, De Gea blundered in defeat against West Ham United while spooling back to that horrific 4-0 loss to Brentford also highlighted his culpability.

With Phil Jones having been released, De Gea is now the only player at United who knows what it is like to win the Premier League, after signing in 2011. But that is not a good enough reason to keep him.

If United are to compete they need to make far more wholesale changes than are being planned. The priority is a striker and a ‘number eight’ midfielder, with Chelsea’s Mason Mount set to fulfill that role. Marcus Rashford needs support while this FA Cup exposed United’s lack of dynamism in midfield with Christian Eriksen looking like his race is on.

But United desperately need a goalkeeper. By contrast Pep Guardiola was decisive when he arrived at City, deciding that Joe Hart had no future despite his status and longevity. It didn’t work out for Claudio Bravo but Guardiola quickly remedied that by signing Ederson.

Ten Hag needs to act in the same way. He has Dean Henderson returning from his loan at Nottingham Forest but is he good enough to be United’s No. 1? It doesn’t seem so, while Jack Butland’s loan from Crystal Palace is expiring.

Pre-match and the talk had been of Guardiola taking a risk by rewarding Stefan Ortega with a starting place rather than going for Ederson. But it shows how far ahead City are that the discussion afterwards was not of Ortega but De Gea. United needs to fix it.

He saved well from Kevin de Bruyne and did even better to deny Erling Haaland but the damage was already done and that is without mentioning whether De Gea should have reacted to prevent Gundogan’s first goal. It may appear harsh but De Gea was hardly on his toes in anticipation of the volley as it flew past him in the opening few seconds. A better goalkeeper does better and United needs a better goalkeeper.

Broaden your horizons with award-winning British journalism. Try The Telegraph free for 1 month, then enjoy 1 year for just $9 with our US-exclusive offer.