For someone who narrowly missed out on going to the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™ and UEFA EURO 2012 – both of which Spain went on to win – David de Gea is remarkably sanguine. “I was very young and knew that there were very good keepers with more experience ahead of me. I just had to keep working in the knowledge that other opportunities would come along,” the Spaniard told FIFA.com.
De Gea’s assessment was spot-on, as chances then came thick and fast for the still-young shot-stopper. One of those pros who appear to have been on the scene for years, the Manchester United No1 is still just 24 but already possesses winner's medals in the Premier League, UEFA Europa League and UEFA Super Cup, a European U-19 and U-21 title, as well as a runner’s up medal from the FIFA U-17 World Cup.
After the disappointment of missing out on Spain’s successes in 2010 and 2012, the Madrid native was thrilled to be named in La Roja’s squad for the 2014 World Cup. “Thank God I was fortunate enough to be selected for Brazil,” he said, before adding after a brief pause: “Well, the memory is a bittersweet one. I was really excited with it being my first full World Cup, but the result is obviously one to forget. On top of that, I injured myself out there… A World Cup can be very difficult. You need to go into it in very good form and play with immense focus. Otherwise, the smallest things could have you on a flight home.”
Change of scene
De Gea’s detached analysis is in keeping with his cautious and reflective nature. “I’m a composed, calm type, which helps me in my profession. As a keeper, you need to convey a sense of calm to the rest of the team.”
Those characteristics, allied to an immense talent between the posts, put De Gea firmly on Sir Alex Ferguson’s radar back in 2011. Determined to prise him from Atletico Madrid, the former United boss broke the British transfer record for a keeper to bring him to Old Trafford.
“Truth be told, English football has changed me a great deal. I’ve developed a lot physically, greatly improved my concentration and generally improved all aspects of my game. I was very young when I came here, but four years on, things are very good overall. This league really suits me, as you learn a lot here,” said the 6’4 custodian.
Today, Louis Van Gaal is at the United helm and the veteran Dutchman shares his predecessors’ faith in De Gea, who for company at Old Trafford has one of the keepers who was selected ahead of him for Spain in 2010 and 2012.
“Victor Valdes and I work very well together – I’m very happy to be with him. I’m learning so much from him, not just in goalkeeping terms given his immense experience, but also as a person. He’s a very straightforward guy with a lot of character. Moreover, he’s always ready to lend a hand, trying to help out with his advice, especially during games,” said De Gea graciously.
After a somewhat shaky start to the 2014/15 campaign, the Red Devils turned things around and now have a clear goal for the season. “We have to qualify for the Champions League no matter what. We already missed out last season, and a team like Manchester United cannot do that two years in a row.
Looking to the future
Also with a clear goal are La Roja, especially after the massive disappointment of Brazil, and that is to defend their European crown. “The team’s desire to get the fans dreaming again with an attractive Spain side is as strong as ever,” said De Gea.
That quest has not been without its setbacks, though. Spain remain second in their EURO 2016 qualifying group behind Slovakia – who defeated them 2-1 in Zilina last October – and are struggling to find the fluency and football that characterised their play for much of the last decade. “We’re staying calm as we know it’s a tough group. We have difficult games but we’ll go into them without pressure and with the same confidence and composure as ever,” insisted the fearless custodian.
For many observers, De Gea is on the verge of doing what several of his contemporaries (including Valdes) have tried to do for many years: becoming the undisputed first-choice Spain goalkeeper. However, the player himself clears up the question of succeeding Iker Casillas with one fell swoop: “For the moment, no. At present there are three of us and Iker [Casillas] remains the first choice. You never know what the future holds so you just have to live in the moment, try to train as best you can and take advantage of whatever opportunities the boss gives you. Living in the present is what matters most.”
That present just happens to be a rematch against the Netherlands – the team Spain denied in the Final of South Africa 2010 but then lost to in spectacular fashion in their opening game of Brazil 2014. On paper, it is only a friendly, but given the pair’s recent history…
“You always want to play against the biggest and best teams. We’re heading into the game really determined to win and show we’re a very good side,” said the man who could well start in goal in Amsterdam.
If opportunities knocks, it would be another chance for De Gea to prove his international calibre and move a step closer to fulfilling one of his personal goals: “I want to play at a World Cup and not just go as a squad member. I want to win titles for my club and country as that’s what makes a footballer great. I still have so much to do in my career.”
As he wraps things up so as not to be late for dinner, we ask him for one predication… but regarding the Eurovision Song Contest. For several years now David has been going out with Edurne, the Spanish singer who will be representing the country at this year’s show. “Hopefully it all goes really well for her. I really believe in her so I hope it turns out great for her and that she enjoys it.”