“It is nice to have valid competition; it pushes you to do better.”

Giani Versace

Peter Schmeichel had no competition during Manchester United’s halcyon years of the 1990s. Edwin van der Sar wasn’t challenged either side of United’s 2008 double. David de Gea was hardly challenged during his best spell for the club. The struggling Spaniard now needs someone pushing him to do better.

De Gea’s future remains very much under the microscope. A report in The Guardian claiming he was close to a new contract was treated with scepticism from supporters, who have heard the same for over a year with no resolution.

United must learn lessons from the past

If United have learnt any lessons from the past decade, they must plan for life with and without the four-time Player of the Year. Preparation is everything. The question over De Gea’s form will linger on if he does stay.

Four seasons of world-class performances when mistakes were unimaginable, make 18 months of below-par showings a serious concern. It’s led to some deeper questions about his distribution and tendency to stay on his line, too.

David de Gea celebrates for Manchester United after Marcus Rashford scores the Reds' third goal against Chelsea in the Premier League.
(Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)

The aim is to aid De Gea to regain his status as Spain’s, and the world’s, number one goalkeeper. Solskjaer has brought in Richard Hartis as Senior Goalkeeper Coach, but he must also provide him with serious competition.

De Gea current competition

32-year-old Sergio Romero is now injury-prone and too comfortable while Lee Grant, though enjoying his time at the club, has no misconceptions about his role and future.

 

Dean Henderson is back at Bramall Lane where he’s loved by the Sheffield United fans. Playing for a second consecutive season, he’s doing fantastically well. Joel Pereira, too, is further north with Hearts in the Scottish Premiership. Both are highly-ambitious goalkeepers with a high ceiling who have no doubts about their ability to replace De Gea.

Dean Henderson is ready to provide proper competition to David de Gea. Dean Henderson celebrates for Sheffield United, on loan from Manchester United, in the Premier League.
(Photo by Simon Stacpoole/Offside/Offside via Getty Images)

Henderson will push De Gea

United must make Henderson the second-choice goalkeeper next season, whether De Gea is the holder of the throne or not. If United have serious doubts that De Gea will be at Old Trafford next season, they should recall Henderson in January and attempt a transition. Sir Alex Ferguson pursued a similar tactic with Ben Foster under the tutelage of Edwin van der Sar.

De Gea’s also playing more for United than ever before. Last season was his first 38-game league campaign, but it resulted in his fewest cleansheets too. Schmeichel and van der Sar played a full fixture list only once. De Gea may be a goalkeeper, but rest is necessary. The problem is that United rely on Romero to come in rather than it being an opportunity for a younger player.

United have some work to do to get a highly-talented player back to his even better self. It’s no easy task. Competition will help; but not the weary push of an aged pro of the game, but the excitable heave of a fresh-faced talent desperate to play for his club.

De Gea may still leave for Juventus

De Gea might see all of this and decide to leave. Juventus can offer higher wages even than United due to Italian tax laws, and will be allowed to talk to De Gea in January, The Mirror report. But United are confident of a new deal, it’s thought, and competition pushes you to do better.

If De Gea is to be the highest-paid goalkeeper in the world, anything but the very best performances on the pitch won’t be acceptable.

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