He arrived in England as the worlds second most expensive goalkeeper (£18m, after Gianluigi Buffon), with the weight of expectation of succeeding his predecessor, Dutch legend Edwin van der Sar. Immediately after signing, the English press wondered whether or not this expensive, young, inexperienced and stick thin Spanish goalkeeper would make the grade. At 21 years old, van der Sar was not even a starter for Ajax Amsterdam and Peter Schmeichel was the goalkeeper for Danish second divison side Hvidovre. With the amount of expectation put on a player who was just starting his career (in goalkeeper terms), it would have seemed he would be doomed to fail.
The physical and aerial aspect of English game has been well documented and this was the part of his game that de Gea would have to work on the most. His first competitive start was against city rivals, Manchester City. Although Man Utd won 3-2, the emphasis wasn't on the result, but on the new goalkeeper, who had failed to command his area for one goal and let a 30 yard strike go under his body and from this moment, the emphasis has never shifted from him. The first of two defining moments in de Gea's campaign last season came in the New Years Eve EPL clash versus Blackburn where United lost 3-2 at home, with De Gea at fault, rightly, for letting Grant Hanley out muscle him for the ball from a corner which equated to Blackburn's third and final goal for the afternoon, allowing them to leave the home of the Champions with three points. De Gea was subsequently dropped for the foreseeable future after his error and replaced with Anders Lindegaard. However, with Lindegaard injuring his ankle on the 31st January, SAF was 'reluctantly forced' to field De Gea in goal for the reminder of the season. With every performance that De Gea took part in, the more his confidence grew (who knew?!). It all culminated in a must win game versus Blackburn, yet again, on the 3rd of April. United dominated from start to finish, yet were suseptable to the counter attack of a fast counter attack minded team. As was the case, Blackburn threatened little with the ball but created numerous chances on the break, with Junior Holliet testing De Gea from range, only to be foiled. Some would say that this was De Gea's best game in a United kit, and rightly so. He had kept them in the game with some fine stops.
As the 2012/13 season came to an opening, speculation was rife whether or not SAF would replace his 'vulnerable' goalkeeper. The rumours proved fruitless and United kicked off the season against Everton, and were it not for De Gea, United would have lost by more than just the 1-0 scoreline. As the season progressed, De Gea and Lindegaard rotated the role of the number one jersey until the time came for the first Manchester derby of the season at the Etihad, and with Lindegaard's wife going into labour, De Gea was trusted with the #1 kit, and he hasn't looked backed. However, the first talking point against de Gea came in Uniteds 2-1 victory over Liverpool at Old Trafford where de Gea seemed to parry the ball straight into the path of Daniel Sturridge who subsequently scored. Following the game, De Gea was somehow criticised for parrying the ball to Sturridge, when 90% of the keepers wouldn't have saved the original shot from Steven Gerrard. However, this was just the tip of the iceberg of pure idiotic analysis that would find its way towards De Gea.
In the league game against Spurs, De Gea was seen to have made a monumental error in punching the ball right into the path of a waiting Aaron Lennon to square it to Clint Dempsey to snatch a late and dramatic equaliser. In the post match coverage, papers, websites and pundits alike were all critical of De Gea for not getting more onto the punch, but there was no mention of him being sandwiched in between a Serbian rock in Nemanja Vidic and Steven Caulker. There was no mention of Patrice Evra, just standing, ball watching as De Gea's punch dropped down to Lennon. And there was no mention of Michael Carrick letting Clint Dempsey having an open shot at goal. The whole of the media were on de Gea's back, even though he had kept United in the game with some incredible saves, none more so than against Dempsey himself.
The one thing which has irked me most about the scapegoat tag De Gea has earned is that his rivals at other clubs have got away with murder compared to him. None more so than a certain England #1, Joe Hart. Earlier on in the season, when United had beaten Chelsea, Juan Mata had scored a great free kick, but it was overshadowed in analysis that De Gea had taken a step in the opposite direction of where the ball would end up. Yet in the Manchester derby, as van Persie scored a last minute winner, Joe Hart too took a step in the wrong direction, yet there wasn't even a grain of criticism towards him, why? De Gea has gained United more points than lost, can the same be said for Joe Hart? Especially after the game against Sunderland where he was beaten by the cross-cum-shot by former teammate Adam Johnson, that he allowed to squirmish under his body onto the post and in, which meant Sunderland took all three points, yet Johnson was praised for his instinctive shot at goal, with Hart not at any fault, he was just caught out with a 'moment of magic'. Again, this Saturday just passed, Petr Cech parried a Yoann Gouffran shot straight into the path of an incoming Moussa Sissoko, yet he didn't get criticised, instead, Sissoko gained all the plaudits for keeping up with his compatriot and tucking the rebound in. Most recently, in Uniteds game against Fulham, De Gea made an excellent save from Bryan Ruiz at 0-0, getting a small finger on his shot that deflected it against the post, yet the Daily Mail didn't acknowledge it, choosing to say he didn't even get near it. Typical.
As said before, with the amount of favouritism in the media towards other goalkeepers other than De Gea, he has been made to be a scapegoat whenever a result goes against United, no matter how good the other team was, or how bad the individual errors were that lead up to him conceding the goal. The choices of the press to write about the individual genius of the opposition against rival goalkeepers, then choosing to write about faltering (falsely) performances of De Gea is more than obvious that they wish to rip into De Gea, and in some cases rightly so, but this season, De Gea has been immense and is a shadow of the shy, skinny and weak Spaniard that came to England in 2012.