It’s not been an easy year for De Gea. As Spain tumbled out of the World Cup at the last-16 stage, their goalkeeper’s position in the team was questioned after a series of high-profile mistakes. Chelsea’s Kepa Arrizabalaga is the new kid on the block, and De Gea knows that reputation will count for nothing in the run to Euro 2020.

At club level, Manchester United failed to win silverware in 2018, following 2012, 2014 and 2015 as trophyless years for De Gea at Old Trafford. Given that United had only finished empty-handed in twice in the 13 years before his arrival, the goalkeeper’s time in England has coincided with a general Manchester United malaise. They will end the year struggling even for a top-four place. The fight for domestic dominance has become a fight for domestic relevance.

David de Gea

Yet De Gea is the one person who can be absolved from all the muck being thrown around Old Trafford. Time and again he – quite literally – saves his club from further ignominy.

All failure occurs in spite of his best efforts, and all success starts with his extraordinary consistency. De Gea must surely rival Edwin van der Sar, Peter Schmeichel and Alex Stepney as Manchester United’s greatest ever goalkeeper.

Take the 1-0 Champions League victory over Young Boys in November, when Marouane Fellaini scored the late winner that secured qualification, but De Gea somehow recalibrated his body to claw Ulisses Garcia’s deflected shot away from goal. He has an ability to make time slow down, to give him the opportunity to react in the manner that other goalkeepers simply cannot.

We generally pigeonhole goalkeepers into different categories. There are those who do the basics brilliantly and those who produce the spectacular. There are those who prefer to play short passes and those who prefer to play longer, more direct balls. There are those sweeper-keepers who are at home outside their penalty areas and those who prefer to stay closer to home. De Gea is highly unusual in that he can do the lot.

Named in the PFA Team of the Year in five of the last six seasons. Awarded Match of the Day’s Save of the Season in five of the last six seasons. Named by Manchester United supporters as their Player of the Year in five of the last six seasons. Named in FIFA’s World XI for 2018.

They are so damn lucky to have him.

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FourFourTwo’s 100 Best Football Players in the World 2018

100 Best Football Players in the World 2018

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