What a Difference a De Gea Makes: David De Gea, Joe Hart & Manchester's Elite

“De Gea, lose some weight ya fat bastard.” The irony of the statement from an irate United fan did not escape us; the few thousand stood directly behind his goal. All collective chanting and cheering had ceased, it was a time in which the mouthy individual could find an attentive audience. In the case of David De Gea – the player closest to us – his slight frame and astonishingly lean limbs suggested that perhaps only humour could be found using irony. Here we were told was a goalkeeper, a Manchester United goalkeeper, a Manchester United goalkeeper yet to turn 21 but had cost almost £18 million, en route to conceding six goals against Manchester City, in Old Trafford.

The vulnerability of De Gea in a goal that looked remarkably bigger for his being stood in it, was not eased by the dismissal of Jonny Evans relatively early into the second half. Five goals would follow in Evans’ absence. Yet, we were similarly forced to consider the presence – commanding, assured and inspiring – of the goalkeeper we had witnessed at first hand in the first half; Joe Hart. Here we could see a goalkeeper, a potential Premier League winning goalkeeper, a goalkeeper who would not look out of place playing in the Champions League or as England’s #1, a goalkeeper who had cost a relative pittance and who had met every insulting comment thrown at him with a wink and a smile when he turned to collect his belongings as the first half concluded.

Had you asked any United fan that had seen Hart that day who they would choose between Hart and De Gea, results would have been conclusively in favour of the Englishman. Leaving potential ability aside, Hart seemed to possess an innate ruthlessness and determination that suggested had he been in De Gea’s position – already 0-1 down and losing a central defender – there would be no way he would concede five more goals. Man United’s defensive remnants had looked so thoroughly disorganised. This would not have happened with Schmeichel, nor Van der Sar and most likely not with Joe Hart either.

Yet, Alex Ferguson, since retired, stuck with the Spaniard. Two years on from the horrors of that 1-6 and Manchester United are reaping the benefits of this faith. De Gea, still relatively slight for a typical goalkeeper has nonetheless filled out both physically and in his outward persona. He simply appears more confident and rarely shirks his necessary vocal duties.

Joe Hart however is once again mired in a lull of poor personal performances that have brought – often extreme but nonetheless present – closer scrutiny on his position. As both Manchester clubs embrace new managers and combat unusually slow starts to the season, it is worth taking a considerable look at the places of both De Gea and Hart in these events.


While the magical insight procured by the application of statistics or the opinion of one more readily equipped to read a footballing situation are withdrawn from the common eye of a football observer, it is nonetheless clear that the opening weeks of Hart and De Gea’s seasons have differed in places. Somewhat similarly, in all competitions, De Gea has conceded 12 goals in 11 appearances. Hart, having not played in a Community Shield or having been picked for the Capital One Cup tie with Wigan has conceded 11 goals in 9 games.

Yet De Gea, unlike Hart, has often had the frailties of a poor defensive effort to rue for these goals against. With the exception of Wilfried Bony’s consolatory goal for Swansea on the opening day, the errors of Ferdinand, Vidic and Evra often enabled by relatively poor midfield covering have left De Gea unguarded. With clarity this was seen particularly in the 1-4 loss at Manchester City and the 1-2 loss to West Brom.

One may rightfully query De Gea’s role in ensuring no such disorganisation at the back, and true enough his command of the penalty box will never be without room for improvement. However, the presence of such experienced figures like Ferdinand and Vidic warrant perhaps a greater deal of the blame. Ferdinand in particular appears limited currently as his experience is perhaps implying the amount of what he has given at the expense of the little he may have left to give. Against West Brom particularly he was left looking foolish for Amalfitano’s opening goal. Vidic in contrast has been susceptible to moments of rare naivety. Against Shakhtar Donetsk and Sunderland, he was caught short by an unexpected ball to feet. This probably represents a brief lack of focus that one can be sure he will quickly eradicate as the season progresses.

De Gea exemplified his importance in Saturday evening’s win for Manchester United at Sunderland. Trailing 0-1, De Gea displayed an acrobatic save that all but kept United afloat and allowed for the win to be established in the coming minutes. Yet, the acrobatics were an element of his game never in any real doubt. What will be of greater relief and promise to United fans is his assuring growth of ability in completing the basics. How much his story at United has changed can be redeemed in the fact that so little time is now given to him via media discussions. He is on his way to confirming the same anonymity that befalls the greatest of goalkeepers for the majority of their games. Far from being the finished article, he still represents a stern solidity in a time of uncertainty regarding who the new man Moyes sees as his most balanced side.

Of the 11 goals Hart has conceded – keeping in mind the limited knowledge an observer can realise when viewing defensive strategy etc. – it is clear that with at least 8 of them reasonable doubt can be raised as to the part Hart played in them. Most crucially and decisively, it was the 6 goals – 3 and 3 – conceded against Cardiff City and Bayern Munich that left Hart looking particularly at fault. They were goals that at the very least gave him a direct chance of involvement but ultimately highlighted his shirked ability. His latest concession against Everton’s Romelu Lukaku shared likeness with this train of events.


What is perhaps most destructive about Hart’s ill vein of form in comparison to De Gea’s positive start is the fact that City’s attacking prowess is so far on a different plateau to Man United’s. This can be clarified by the 4-1 trouncing issued to United on City’s behalf in mid-September. City have so far outscored Man United by 7 goals with one game less played (Community Shield). Yet their defensive frailties have left them worse off in the Champions League than United in their respective group and only three points ahead in the as of yet early stages of the Premier League.

It is not at all ludicrous to suggest that the questioning of Hart’s form comes as a direct response to his value in the England set up. Media scrutiny of Roy Hodgson’s reluctance to assert a plan B regarding his goalkeeper could damn him and Hart should plan A suffer any setbacks. A poor mistake made as a Manchester City goalkeeper is one thing; however, if Hart were to commit even the slightest blunder and hamper England’s chances of World Cup qualification in the upcoming games against Montenegro or Poland, the backlash will be ferocious. Yet, Hart is an outstanding goalkeeper; current form notwithstanding, his contribution to club and country are paramount to either’s intended success.

For David De Gea, national service has not reached such a boiling point as of yet. With Iker Casillas yet to play a league game for Real Madrid this season and only 19 appearances last season, De Gea represents a tangible future as Spain’s #1. However, what will be of great concern to Manchester United fans is whether or not he will feel his future on the international stage would be best served being in Spain. Realistically he could be a candidate for Real Madrid or Barcelona sooner rather than later. For the sake of English football it would do us all a favour if both players flourished as they and we know they can in this league. They have both suffered bad runs of form in their time as goalkeepers of United and City, but staying true to an old idiom; class is permanent and both of these goalkeepers possess that in abundance.

Arthur O'Dea
Article written by
From Sligo, In Dublin, To London. Will write for money, happily doing it for free. Masters Student of English in T.C.D. - until the summer runs out anyway. Appreciate feedback.

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