The drama of the De Gea transfer saga; are there any winners?

david de gea manchester united

Ever seen the movie Alien vs. Predator? If you haven’t believe me you’re not missing out on an art house classic.

To my eternal shame I have seen it, in the cinema no less, and walked out with a one-word critique, “meh”. The danger of too much time coupled with poor judgment.  

As odd as it sounds the whole David de Gea to Real Madrid saga keeps reminding me of Aliens vs. Predator.

No, I’m not thinking of Florentino Pérez suited up as a Predator nor am I envisioning Ed Woodward and Louis van Gaal as a pair of salivating Xenomorphs with David de Gea stuck conveniently in the middle of an almighty transfer scrap. That said given the deadline day farce, the Killer Rabbit of Caerbannog* appears to be far more ruthless (and competent) than Pérez, Woodward and van Gaal combined.

It’s the Alien vs. Predator tag that sums up this transfer tug-of-war quite nicely, whoever wins…we lose. Maybe it’s worth altering the tagline slightly to whoever wins…they lose. 

Why does it seem appropriate? To boil it down, no matter who ‘wins’ this tussle it won’t be the total victory that they’re searching for.

From a United standpoint the posturing of Woodward and company is understandable to a point. A club of United’s stature shouldn’t roll over and have their belly tickled every time Real Madrid comes in for a player.

However by initially raising the stakes in insisting that Sergio Ramos be part of any transfer negotiations and then waiting for the eleventh hour of the window to engage in any purposeful negotiation, Woodward and van Gaal allowed an unnecessary soap opera to engulf the club. The intransigence has proven costly on the pitch with Sergio Romero not looking at all convincing in goal and arguably costing United the win at Swansea.

Moreover, questions should be asked within the club as to why De Gea’s contract was allowed to wind down before any concrete action was taken.

United are still in the midst of an expensive transition since the retirement of Sir Alex Ferguson. Post-Ferguson, David Moyes, Ángel di María and Radamel Falcao have all come and gone whilst Wayne Rooney went from being an outcast to club captain. Arguably, during this period United dropped the ball with De Gea, the club’s best performing player over the last two seasons, by not securing him to a long-term deal before Real really ramped up their interest.

Hindsight of course is 20/20, but De Gea was clearly showing his class after a nervy couple of seasons at Old Trafford. In Ferguson’s swansong year De Gea was named in the PFA’s Team of the Season.

Ideally, the time to have extended his contract would have been in the summer of 2013. In mitigation United were dealing with the aftermath of Sir Alex Ferguson’s retirement, David Gill’s departure and the uncertainty surrounding Wayne Rooney’s future. Despite the upheaval surely it would have been a smart move to attempt to secure De Gea’s future and sort out an extension. There’s no guarantee that De Gea would have signed but United left themselves vulnerable by not proactively dealing with the Spaniard’s contract status. By the time United offered a record-breaking deal talk of Real’s interest in De Gea had been doing the rounds. United were caught reacting to events rather than setting the agenda.

Initially, van Gaal appeared to understand the dilemma De Gea found himself in. The United manager said after the 1-1 draw against Arsenal last season:

“I analyse his position and then I say he is Spanish, he is Spanish international, still behind (Iker) Casillas, now a Spanish club is coming, his girlfriend is Spanish, his father and mother come here every week or every two weeks so it is difficult. He shall not leave us so easily because we have a great club. But he can go to another great club and that is for him to decide”. 

De Gea’s performance against Paris Saint-Germain was a cause for concern, not only was he culpable for the first goal, but he was sloppy with possession and just didn’t seem on the ball (if you’ll forgive the term).

Prior to that match Van Gaal was at pains to highlight De Gea’s professional behavior as the Reds were touring the US. It’s easy to forget that the Spaniard had a good game in United’s 3-1 victory over Barcelona in Santa Clara.

The PSG result though made Van Gaal was sufficiently worried enough to drop De Gea for the opening game of this year’s Premier League season but the decision looked to be rooted in a place of sympathy. In the build-up to the opening game against Tottenham he said:

“We have seen in our training sessions and matches he is not the David de Gea of last year. He tries, he does his upmost best, but it is a difficult situation. He cannot manage this situation. A human being is more than just a player and he cannot manage so he will not play and you will have to wait to see who does (Van Gaal chose Sergio Romero). We have to play our first match and this is the most important match so I want players who can focus only on the match. He is not capable of doing that.”

Van Gaal’s treatment of De Gea does seem to be on the bizarre side though as he effectively called into question the Spaniard’s mental toughness. And if De Gea stays at United beyond the transfer window then what? Will he be thrown straight back in as first team keeper? Will he need to be reintegrated more gradually given his frame of mind? Will he play at all?

The current state of flux in United’s goalkeeping department is not doing the club any favors. De Gea’s situation despite the collapse of his move to Real has yet to be resolved properly, Victor Valdes has no future at the club whilst Sergio Romero only appears to be a temporary solution.

United may have stood up to Real Madrid but given the high-stakes game Woodward and van Gaal played with Pérez the ‘victory’ may look pyrrhic at best.

Ed Woodward is taking flack for another chaotic transfer window but what of Florentino Pérez’s? The Real Madrid president who prides himself on signing galacticos has been made to look at the very least incompetent in his pursuit of De Gea.

His expectation was that United would be happy to sell however the reality was completely different when United turned the tables and asked about the availability of Sergio Ramos.

What swiftly followed was news that Ramos was seriously considering a move away from the Bernabéu given that he had yet to receive a new contract offer from Real and that the club refused to deny reports that the player had been linked to a move to rivals Barcelona.

Politically, the Real Madrid President was left in a sticky situation of his own making due to his handling of the club’s big players.

Pérez effectively forced out Iker Casillas giving a textbook demonstration into how not to let go of a club legend. The first of Casillas’ farewells was deemed to be disrespectful given the low-key nature of the event and the lack of club representatives present whilst the second turned into a demonstration with fans warning Pérez not to sell Sergio Ramos.

Suddenly, Pérez’s focus shifted from signing De Gea to securing his position as President. After shunting Casillas out the door Pérez held reportedly tense talks with Sergio Ramos in China. Pérez apparently told Ramos that if the defender was sold to Manchester United he would be forced to step down as Real Madrid President because of the fan backlash.

In terms of a statement Pérez did not exactly say to Ramos that he wanted him at the club it was more of an admission that he needs the defender’s presence to prevent a revolt. As the saying goes “keep your friends close and your enemies even closer”.

The pair may not like each other but Ramos got what he wanted from Pérez, a nice new contract.

At a club that seems in a perpetual state of transition Pérez has outdone himself with his handling of the De Gea non-transfer. Costa Rican international Keylor Navas, who was set to move to Old Trafford, knows definitively that no matter what he does this season at the Berbabéu he will be deemed surplus to requirements. It also leaves Rafa Benitez with an unwanted headache as the Real Madrid coach having to deal with a first team player who has been undermined by the club president.

Politically, Pérez has been uncomfortably exposed and though there’s no sign of him losing his grip on Real Madrid anytime soon his reputation has taken an unnecessary self-inflicted hit.

Finally, what of De Gea? He has not sought the spotlight throughout this whole saga. He has not stated publicly that he wants to join Real Madrid or leave Manchester United even though it’s common knowledge that he wishes to return home.

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