Spain may be without injured Barcelona goalkeeper Victor Valdés when it defends its World Cup crown in Brazil, but Manchester United’s David de Gea is ready to answer his country’s SOS call. Of course, Spain has an embarrassment of riches when it comes to keepers. Real Madrid’s World Cup-winning stopper remains a bit part player at Los Merengues with manager Carlo Ancelotti tending to pick him for European and domestic cup ties but going with Diego López in La Liga.
Napoli’s Pepe Reina, on loan from Liverpool, is another who can stake a claim for a starting berth after a decent season in Serie A. However, the unsung hero of the moment is undoubtedly United’s de Gea. When he joined the current outgoing Premier League champions in 2011, he suffered a baptism of fire. A skinny youth more used to technical build ups, he was face with the fierce crosses and hard challenges synonymous with the Premier League. In January of that season, he was confirmed as hyperopic (farsighted) and underwent corrective surgery. Although there was no proof de Gea’s the condition affected the player’s performances for United, the press seized the opportunity to say it did and pile pressure on the fragile keeper.
This season, de Gea has been one of United’s star players. Despite a season to forget for the club as a whole, de Gea is voted star man almost every week by United fans and is shortlisted to be the supporters’ player of the season. Now a leaner and more confident keeper, Spain boss Vicente del Bosque has hinted that de Gea could fill the void left by Valdés and make the plane to Brazil. There will be skeptics, of course. De Gea has yet to win a single cap at international level and so elevating him to the starting line-up is a risk. Yet Casillas’ lack of first team action at the Estadio Santiago Bernabéu means Pepe Reina could be the only other serious contender for the number one jersey.
Although de Gea being selected for the squad, never mind going as first choice, is still being considered by del Bosque, the manager knows Spain needs a young keeper who is ready to answer his country’s SOS call at short notice. With Reina and Casillas at 31 and 32-years-of-age respectively, de Gea’s time will come soon. If he is selected and manages to impress in the friendly matches ahead of the main event in Brazil, then de Gea will stake a strong claim to be Spain’s number one for some time, as Valdés is not expected to be back until circa 2015.
So while there may be some serious and experienced competition to be Spain’s main keeper, de Gea’s recent form for his club side will have done his chances no harm and will have put him in serious contention to answer the SOS call Spain put out after Valdés was ruled out for the tournament and beyond. De Gea’s time may have finally come and if he seizes it, the shirt could be his for the foreseeable future.
World Cup Preview is a daily series providing commentary and analysis of the teams and players participating in this year’s World Cup in Brazil.
Commentary by Robert Shepherd