Manchester United's players have demanded that their young goalkeeper David de Gea be given the time to succeed at their club, after the 22-year-old's huge role in securing a draw at the Bernabeu left Spain salivating over the idea of him returning to La Liga.
Michael Carrick, Phil Jones and Ryan Giggs all insisted that De Gea was coping with the high level of scrutiny that comes with being a Manchester United goalkeeper, with Giggs observing after the 1-1 draw against Real Madrid that he was being persecuted in a way that a young player in another position would not be.
"Young outfield players can be brought in and out of a team. But usually if the 'keeper makes a mistake, it's a goal," said Giggs.
"A centre-forward has to score goals, but probably nothing will be said about missed chances. I think there's a lot of pressure in every position, but the centre-forwards are supposed to score goals and the 'keepers are supposed to keep it out of the net."
Alex Ferguson moved to bring De Gea from Atletico Madrid two summers ago, motivated by having allowed a young Petr Cech, from Rennes, and an even younger Joe Hart, at Shrewsbury Town, to get away because he did not then trust youthful 'keepers.
But the prospects of a summer return to Madrid, where his girlfriend still lives, were enhanced by a display on Wednesday night which the Spanish daily 'Marca' described as "San De Gea's night" – the "San" moniker meaning "saint" and usually reserved for "San Iker Casillas".
Speaking to Madrid-based journalists after the game De Gea said: "I threw myself at everything. They scored a good goal against me, but it only beat me by the slightest margin."
The goalkeeper, represented by Jorge Mendes, has been linked with La Liga's top three sides. Barcelona need a replacement for Victor Valdes, whose contract – which he has said he will not renew – runs out at the end of next season.
Atletico Madrid will lose Chelsea loanee Thibaut Courtois at the end of the season and Real Madrid have been destabilised by Casillas and Mourinho's falling out, with the World Cup winner dropped by his coach.
Ferguson's players added to Giggs' support for a player whose suitability for the United job has been questioned in Britain.
"It's never nice when people question you but it's the nature of a club like this," Carrick said. "You are always getting questioned and criticised and that's just how it is. He deals with it. He's a top 'keeper and he's only going to get better.
Phil Jones said De Gea "deserves every credit he gets. He's come into the English league and it's not easy. He's done terrific for us".
There are impediments to a move back to Spain for De Gea, though. A return to Atletico looks highly improbable. Barcelona are looking at 20-year-old Borussia Monchengladbach 'keeper Ter Stegen, having hinted that they do not see De Gea as a 'keeper who suits their needs and Real Madrid would see less need to replace Casillas if Mourinho does not stay beyond the end of the season.
'Marca' knew what it saw though. "It was an exhibition of incredible saves," it said of De Gea.
"He was outstanding in every aspect of the game and not at all at fault for the goal. He saved with his hands, his feet, he blocked everything." (© Independent News Service)