How long ago 2011/12 seems now. After a shaky start to his Manchester United career, David De Gea has grown in the space of three-and-a-half seasons into one of the best goalkeepers in the Premier League and the world, prompting comparisons to Schmeichel (that’s Peter, not Kasper) at his peak. As the prospective next cab off the Old Trafford rank, though, it would probably be kind to say that Anders Lindegaard has failed to convince – what whoscored.com gives with one hand by acknowledging that he is good at saving long shots, it takes with the other by branding him ‘weak’ at concentrating and catching crosses, and ‘very weak’ at saving at close range. And so there is a vacancy for someone to keep De Gea honest. Victor Valdés may also need to adapt his game – as De Gea has – under the barrage of crosses that he can expect if called on against some of the more rough-and-tumble elements of the league, but he has shown for many years that he can be a vital cog in a phenomenally successful wheel. Valdés has not come to Old Trafford for one last pay day before retirement; his junior incumbent colleague would do well not to treat him so lightly.
What is more, if anyone needs convincing that this signing does not represent Valdés looking to enjoy his twilight years basking in the sunshine that bathes Salford in one endless glorious summer, it should come with this: the Spaniard is nearly two years younger than Edwin van der Sar was when the Dutchman joined United in 2005, and as the saying goes, we all know what happened to him. It is also easy to forget that, until tearing his anterior cruciate ligament in March 2014, Valdés remained Barcelona’s first-choice keeper. That’s some pedigree. Meanwhile, De Gea’s contract is due to expire in 18 months’ time; it is surely, therefore, no coincidence that, with Real Madrid on the lookout for a long-term option between the sticks, both United, with Valdés, and Spurs, with Michel Vorm, have looked to provide for a seamless transition in the event that the lure of the Bernabeú becomes too much for either de Gea or Hugo Lloris.
Although Manchester United won themselves trophy after trophy after trophy in the 1990s and 2000s, they could hardly claim throughout that time to have always boasted the finest squads. At times, until all was kindly dismantled by the magnanimous David Moyes, it felt like teams would go to Old Trafford and simply lose to the weight of history and expectation. But when Rio Ferdinand, Nemanja Vidic and Patrice Evra all left the club in the summer, they took with them a lot of that mental edge. Opposing teams can now take on Chris Smalling, Tyler Blackett, even De Gea (for all the Spaniard’s ability, his personal cabinet contains one league title and a Europa League) and play them on their merits, instead of their reputations. Valdés’s signing, though, goes some way to redressing that balance. Three Champions Leagues, six La Liga titles, a European Championship and a World Cup – that’s a hell of a lot to try to slide a ball past when you’re through one-on-one.
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