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Is stubbornness costing United?
Sir Alex Ferguson has been a great manager since the day he swapped boots for an overcoat. His ability to build teams, find, develop and motivate players, as well as win trophies is simply second-to-none. He has a resume that is 99% flawless…except when it comes to stubbornness.
Admittedly we don’t see this side of Sir Alex Ferguson often but when he thinks he is right, he digs in and it takes a heck of a lot to move him.
Think back a few years to the Juan Sebastian Veron experiment. The Argentine playmaker moved to Old Trafford from Italian club Lazio with all the right credentials. At the time Veron was the biggest transfer fee paid by an English club - $44 million.
It soon became obvious though that Veron was not suited to the Premiership as the speed of the game simply passed him by. There was no doubt his footballing brain was up to the task of making quickfire decisions but his languid technique stunted the team’s fluency. Veron wanted the team to play at his pace instead of the other way round.
As the 2003 season progressed, press conferences became more taut as members of the fourth estate challenged the Scotsman on his record signing's effectiveness, leading to the now infamous tirade “On you go, I’m not !@#$ing talking to you. He’s a !@#$ing great player. You’re all !@#$ing idiots.”
This was Ferguson at his cantankerous best. Despite all the evidence to the contrary, he wasn’t going to give up on his belief that Veron was the right man for United’s midfield - that is until Chelsea showed up with a half price offer that he swiftly accepted.
Let’s now fast forward to the present time where Ferguson must be having an eerie sense of deja vu concerning his young Spanish goalkeeper David de Gea.
Manchester United keeper David de Gea is rooted to the spot as Daniel Agger heads Liverpool into a 1-0 lead in the FA Cup. (Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images)
The Scotsman made the 21-year-old the third most expensive keeper in the history of the sport when signing him from Atletico Madrid for close to $27 million after just 57 La Liga matches.
Now, de Gea came highly touted by numerous scouts and sages but I’m curious as to how Ferguson justified that price tag. I mean he almost paid more for this inexperienced, untried and untested youngster than he did for the following…Jim Leighton, Les Sealy, Peter Schmeichel, Mark Bosnich, Raimond van der Gouw, Nick Culkin, Massimo Taibi (the blind Venetian), Paul Rachubka, Fabian Barthez, Andy Goram, Roy Carroll, Ricardo, Tim Howard, Edwin van der Sar, Anders Lindegaard and Ben Amos.
That’s almost 25 years of Old Trafford goalkeeping!
Watching de Gea on Saturday at Anfield it’s obvious that he is a bag of nerves. In his 20 matches to date, he’s made more mistakes than van der Sar did in six seasons and he’s the reason why United do not top the Premier League, are watching the Uefa Champions League and are now licking their wounds in the FA Cup. He’s a liability, plain and simple.
Ferguson has bought a very expensive lemon and needs to take action now. It’s not even a case of sooner or later and there just isn’t time to give the kid a run of easy matches because they don’t exist in the Premier League. Factor in that the Theater of Dreams has to be one of the hardest venues on earth to practice on-the-job learning and you can see the pickle that Fergie is in.
Yes, de Gea was purchased for the future but in football the future is always the next match, it’s not next season or the season after, it’s the present and only the next result counts.
Ferguson knows that he has to defend his number one and he knows that he must defend him with the same fiery attitude that he had for Veron otherwise the kid may just crumble. The trouble is this - de Gea is playing in the most important position in the team. It’s a position where there is no hiding place and right now the kids needs to find a hole.
Earlier you saw the list of goalkeepers who have appeared for SAF over the years. In all honesty, only three of them stood the test of time and all of them were accomplished players in their position when they arrived in Manchester (Schmeichel, Barthez and van der Sar). De Gea is a long way from being the finished article.
I can’t but help feel that another infamous tirade is in the offing for the brave soul who sticks up his hand at the next Carrington press conference and asks “Sir Alex, how long can you stand by David de Gea?”
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