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Manchester United have left De Gea exit door open

Louis van Gaal’s insistence on fully assessing his Number One means the club could lose the Spaniard.

De Gea has been in superb form this season.
De Gea has been in superb form this season.

MANCHESTER UNITED’S OVERSIGHT in failing to tie David De Gea to an improved contract last year has developed into “a big problem” for the club as the goalkeeper’s suitors — lead by Real Madrid — seek to take advantage of the situation.

Although United initiated discussions with De Gea’s representatives over an extension last season, the Premier League club have yet to make a formal offer of a new deal. Indeed, it is understood that, contrary to reports this week, talks are still not planned despite serious interest from around Europe.

With the current contract due to expire next year, that indecisiveness has effectively enabled the Spain international to determine the terms — and location — of any new deal. And it means United will have to act fast if they are to tie their star performer down to a new long-term deal, or at least ensure they receive maximum value when Europe’s top clubs come knocking this summer.

Alex Ferguson recruited De Gea from Atletico Madrid at a domestic-record fee for a goalkeeper of €22.7 million in 2011. A more rounded Number One for his time at Old Trafford, De Gea was named the club’s Players’ Player of the Year for his performances last season and has been fundamental in lifting an inconsistent team to third place in the Premier League this term.

Real Madrid regard the 24-year-old national team goalkeeper as an obvious solution to their long-standing problems with Iker Casillas, yet merely represent the wealthiest of the clubs interested in extracting him from Old Trafford. “It will be a big problem for Manchester because everyone wants De Gea,” said a close friend of the player.

On Louis van Gaal’s request, United have already invested heavily in an additional world-class goalkeeper, handing Victor Valdes a lucrative 18-month deal this week. “He joins the club as the number two goalkeeper and is a great addition to the first team,” the manager said.

The deal, which includes the option for a one-year extension, was sealed in part because of the ongoing uncertainty surrounding De Gea’s situation. Though Anders Lindegaard looks set to depart the club, Valdes’ arrival also ensures the club have a quality, ready-made back-up should they lose De Gea.

The club have essentially been forced to put contingency plans in place following months of inaction.

It is understood that executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward allowed contract discussions to stall last season as the club focused on securing a successor to David Moyes as manager. And while this campaign’s delay has permitted Van Gaal and his goalkeeping coach Frans Hoek to make their own decision on De Gea’s abilities it has come at a considerable cost to the club, with any chance of a renewal dependent on making the player one of the best-paid footballers in England.

Much of Van Gaal and Hoek’s work with De Gea has focused on improving the Spaniard’s work with the ball at his feet. On Hoek’s analysis that is an area in which the former Barcelona No.1 Valdes already excels.

“Victor is a goalkeeper but he is also the 11th outfield player and capable of constructing play,” said the specialist coach the year before last. “The work of Valdes at Barcelona consists 80 per cent of the time in constructing play, while the other 20 per cent of the time he does the normal work of a goalkeeper. He receives very few shots against his goal.” The club’s casual attitude towards De Gea’s contract situation was evident on Friday when Van Gaal responded to questions over the likelihood of his No.1 extending his stay at Old Trafford.

“I think so, yes. I think there is no problem for him to sign,” he said.

“When you are a [regular] player, then probably you are the best, and then the manager is very happy that a player that is fixed in the line-up will stay.”

But with Europe’s top clubs already alerted to the possibility of signing one of the world’s top goalkeepers for a reduced fee, Van Gaal and United would be well advised to open and conclude negotiations swiftly.

By Duncan Castles,

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