You have to wonder if Manchester United are aware of how their stand-off with David de Gea smacks of a club that appears to be suffering from an acute absence of clarity and shared thought.
Do they realize how unprepared they look? Can they understand why it is tempting to conclude that the United of today must have abandoned some of the essentials that in happier times had abandoned. them their own such greatness?
Have they simply forgotten that the most impressive and brilliantly efficient football clubs do not build title-winning teams through indecision and a lack of clarity?
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It is extremely difficult to imagine that City – the club described as a “juggernaut” by Rio Ferdinand, one of the great defenders in United’s history – would find themselves in a similar position these days.
Without it ever being formally announced, De Gea reached an agreement with United towards the end of last season. He had been earning £375,000-a-week on a deal that expires at the end of June, making him the highest-paid goalkeeper in the business. Something had to give, and his new offer was on drastically reduced terms. De Gea accepted, and as everyone headed for the summer break, he told his team-mates he would see them again in July.
One problem: the paperwork was never completed on the club’s end and it’s clear something has changed in terms of how much United want to pay him – and also for how long they want to pay him for.
De Gea was subsequently informed that the original contract offer was no longer relevant and instead new terms were available which would mean another significant reduction in wages.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, he is not entirely happy.
As the players return to start pre-season training next week, De Gea is still undecided on what to do. As things stand, he will be out of contract on Friday, officially a free agent.
All of this feels entirely inevitable for the 20-time English champions amid a summer of protests against the Glazer family who continue to own the club, no transfer business yet and the inevitable sense that it will be exceptionally difficult to get anyone. closer to City next season after finishing 14 points behind them last month.
Unless De Gea fancy some of the staggering sums on offer in Saudi Arabia, the most likely outcome is that he will agree to these newly revised terms. After all, there are not many who take up a highly paid goalkeeper who, at 32, is widely considered to be on the decline.
At the same time, he is right to believe he has been messed around and that is no way to treat a man who has been at Old Trafford for 12 years and, apart from Cristiano Ronaldo, stands alone as a four-time winner. of their player of the year award.
Yes, De Gea is not going to end up on Skid Row with the millions that could still be channeled into his bank account under the new contract. And yes, his suitability for manager Erik ten Hag’s side is a legitimate talking point when you bear in mind that his often excellent goalkeeping has too often been undermined by occasions where he has appeared vulnerable and accident-prone.
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His critics could argue with justification that De Gea has been overpaid and for the more foolish Ed Woodward, United’s former vice-chairman, to sanction the contract that expires at the end of this week. Still, what has happened to De Gea this summer is not how a big club should operate. It’s not the kind of story you’d hear about at City post-takeover, and for the player himself the message it sends is not a very encouraging one.
What United are saying is basically this: we want to keep you, we just don’t want to keep you to much…
It would have been cleaner in a way if they had just let him go.
Many people will assume it must be something to do with the FA Cup final three weeks ago and De Gea’s inability to keep out Ilkay Gundogan’s two volleyed goals for City when at the highest level you might have expected a keeper would do better on both. apartments.
De Gea won the latest of his 45 caps in October 2020. Few are hailing him as they once did, as a candidate to be recognized as the Premier League’s best goalkeeper, even though he won the Golden Glove award as the goalkeeper with the most clean sheets last season.
It is quite plausible that performance against treble-tied City at Wembley was a deciding factor behind United’s tense face over his contract, one of a number of games where the Ten Hag has been asked if he fully trusted the Spaniard. But the more startling point is why United would propose a deal which within weeks of being agreed was taken off the table. What does that say about the planning, or lack thereof, of Old Trafford’s decision-makers?
If his mind was changed by the FA Cup final, at least that’s some sort of explanation. If that’s the case, though, it’s just hard to understand why the club hasn’t been more decisive. No one seems capable of making the kind of tough decisions that once saw Alex Ferguson drop his regular No.1, Jim Leighton, from his starting XI for the 1990 FA Cup final replay against Crystal Palace.
Dean Henderson, who spent last season on loan at Nottingham Forest, is still recovering from a thigh injury in January (and closer analysis will reveal that there are flaws – particularly with his kicking – in his desire to be considered a Category A -goalkeeper anyway ).
Tom Heaton, aged 37 and after just three first-team starts this decade, may start the first pre-season clash against Leeds United on July 12, and with everything up in the air, United have had to cope. contingency plans, including contact with the representatives of Andre Onana, Inter Milan’s goalkeeper.
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None of this reflects well on the chief executive, Richard Arnold, or the director of football, John Murtough, both of whom appear to be learning on the job after being appointed to those positions for the past few years.
Both have had a long time to prepare for De Gea’s contract to be terminated and to consult Ten Hag on what to do about it. That process is still ongoing.
And ultimately it leaves United in the eccentric position of planning a looming pre-season without knowing the identity of their No.1 or whether the club’s goalkeeper of the past 12 years, for better or worse, will even turn up.
(Top photo: Matthew Peters/Manchester United via Getty Images)