Wednesday 22 May 2019

Trophies and presence will see if David de Gea can catch Peter Schmeichel

David de Gea and (inset) Peter Schmeichel
David de Gea and (inset) Peter Schmeichel
Manchester United's David De Gea. Photo: Reuters
Aidan O'Hara

Aidan O'Hara

To mark the 25th anniversary of the Premier League, thousands of words were written at the start of the season about its greatest players.

Beyond the moaning that football didn't begin in 1992, there were the usual, magnificent, discussions about Keane v Vieira; Gerrard v Lampard v Scholes or maybe Henry v Cantona v Shearer where there's no right answer, just lots of hot air, passionately argued. It's one of the game's true beauties.

Where there was rare agreement, however, was in the area of goalkeeper in which the BBC put forward 10 candidates and asked the public to choose.

David Seaman, Petr Cech, Jens Lehmann, Edwin Van Der Sar, David De Gea, Thibaut Courtois, Shay Given, Brad Friedel and Neville Southall were all, theoretically, in the race but were effectively lapped by Peter Schmeichel. On the BBC website, there were 379,172 votes, of which 239,034 chose Schmeichel as their number one with Cristiano Ronaldo the only player to take a greater percentage of the vote.

"Of all the positions, this might have been the easiest," said Alan Shearer as he picked Match of the Day's team along with Ian Wright, Gary Lineker and Danny Murphy who all nodded in agreement.

"Can I just say," added Murphy. "De Gea, if he stayed at United for the next five or six years, would definitely be involved."

With the Spaniard set to sign a new contract at Old Trafford, allied to his current form, that debate will come sooner rather than later.

Against Seville, De Gea produced one of those iconic saves that will be remembered by those who saw it and shoved in front of the eyes of those who didn't for years to come.

In English football, Gordon Banks's stop from Pele's header in the 1970 World Cup remains the benchmark while the double-save from Jim Montgomery to help Sunderland win the 1973 FA Cup against Leeds belongs in the pantheon (look it up or ask your Da).

Schmeichel's most famous came in the 1996 Champions League tie against Rapid Vienna which was remarkably similar to Banks's while Seaman's finest came in a 2003 FA Cup semi-final when his telescopic arm tipped Paul Peschisolido's three-yard header over the bar.

De Gea's effort to deny Seville's Luis Muriel belongs in similar company and, in all cases you will find enough people out there to say that the striker involved should score. Every one of the strikers will retort, correctly, that the goalkeeper shouldn't save.

The statistics of De Gea's stop show Muriel was six and a half yards out and the goalkeeper's reaction time measured at 0.24 of a second. For context, on your phone's stopwatch press the Start button with one finger and the same button again with a different finger. You'll do well to stop it before 00:00.24.

Where the differences between Schmeichel and De Gea are pronounced, however, is their post-save reaction.

Chris Smalling was supposed to be marking Muriel but, as Jesus Navas's cross came in, the centre-back had all the composure and movement of a man who had been spun around several times and asked to walk in a straight line.

Had something similar happened on Schmeichel's watch, Smalling would at least have had to answer a question about why he wasn't doing his job yet De Gea favours a more relaxed approach - even if it makes more work for himself.

"After a great save or a mistake by a defender I prefer not to shout on him, I prefer to wait and say it inside the dressing room," De Gea has said. "When I make a mistake I don't want people shouting at me so I try to do the same with my players to give them confidence."

Roy Keane often felt that Schmeichel was grandstanding in roaring at the players in front of him but, for the most part, the tension and animosity seemed to energise both defence and goalkeeper to greater heights of concentration, even if they mutually loathed each other.

"You could hear him from everywhere," was another nugget from Murphy about Schmeichel's presence and aura which, for all of De Gea's remarkable shot-stopping, he has yet to fully discover.

On an individual level, De Gea is likely to be on the PFA's team of the season for the fourth consecutive time and his fifth overall whereas Schmeichel was only nominated once by his Premier League peers. That, however says as much about the likes of Smalling and Jones - compared to Steve Bruce, Gary Pallister or Jaap Stam - as it does about the goalkeepers behind them, which is also why De Gea looks likely to fall short on the most crucial area: trophies.

De Gea has already conceded more goals than Schmeichel in 24 fewer games in a United shirt (216 after yesterday's game against Chelsea v Schmeichel's 212) but successful teams shouldn't need their goalkeeper to rescue them as often as De Gea has for United in the past few seasons.

Schmeichel was a key figure in winning five Premier League titles and a Champions League and although De Gea has one league title, it came in a season when he barely saw off Anders Lindegaard for the No 1 jersey.

Since then, De Gea has become probably the best in the world but nobody in the modern United era becomes a legend by winning the consolation cups of FA Cup, League Cup and Europa League.

If the save from Muriel proves the launchpad for glory, De Gea would become the man who helped United win the Champions League rather than qualify for it which moves him into a different echelon.

Like most things at United since Alex Ferguson retired, however, regardless of his individual performance, he and the team look likely be damned by comparisons of the icons who went before them.

Irish Independent

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