For so long tipped to succeed Iker Casillas as Spain’s first-choice goalkeeper, David de Gea has hovered in the shadows of the veteran La Roja captain and Real Madrid legend for too long, despite rave reviews in the Premier League.
It is nearly five years since De Gea took on the apparently impossible task of replacing Edwin van der Sar between the posts for Manchester United. Still only 25, the former Atletico Madrid stopper has racked up more than 200 appearances for the Old Trafford side, but has won just a handful of caps for Spain.
De Gea’s shaky start in English football seems a long time ago and now he is frequently compared with Manuel Neuer by those looking to name to world’s finest goalkeeper. With excellent agility and quick reflexes, De Gea is a fine shot-stopper. His handling, distribution and command of his area are also strong, qualities that have been crucial behind a fallible United defence this season.
Just 20 years of age when he signed for United from Atletico and made his faltering Premier League debut against West Bromwich Albion, De Gea spectacularly failed to impress unforgiving fans and reporters, who criticised his youthful vulnerability. He has steadily established himself, but has yet to reach the pinnacle of international recognition.
Despite an inauspicious start to the current campaign, when United boss Louis van Gaal refused to select him after a summer of speculation linking him with a move to Real Madrid, De Gea has continued in imperious form. His achievement in doing so has been all the more remarkable considering the comparative struggles Van Gaal’s men have endured.
Casillas has remained in possession of the No. 1 shirt for La Roja throughout the time De Gea has spent establishing himself at United, but De Gea was preferred to Casillas for last Thursday’s friendly against Italy and turned in an excellent performance to help Vicente del Bosque’s men to a 1-1 draw in Udine.
Casillas was back between the sticks as La Roja laboured to a goalless draw in Romania on Sunday and has now kept a clean sheet in each of his last eight international appearances, but he has struggled to achieve consistency at Porto, where he has made some high-profile blunders.
Third choice behind Casillas and Pepe Reina at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, De Gea failed to feature in La Roja’s disastrous campaign, eventually making his first start for his country in a friendly against France in Paris the same year.
Del Bosque clearly has De Gea in his thoughts and Euro 2016 could herald the Madrid-born keeper’s big opportunity to add to his meagre eight international appearances. Casillas himself has tipped De Gea to succeed him, while former La Roja keeper Santi Canizares has also backed the Manchester United man to be given the nod by Del Bosque for France this summer.
Canizares believes Del Bosque has missed a trick by limiting De Gea’s opportunities for Spain until now. What better time for the Coach to reward the goalkeeper’s consistency and quality - and enhance his own prospects of going out on a high?