Alvaro Morata might have been Jose Mourinho’s number one transfer target this summer, but there were more than a few upsides to Manchester United’s failure to secure the Real Madrid striker.
For starters, it resulted in the shunting of Wayne Rooney out the Old Trafford exit door, with Everton signing the striker as a de facto makeweight in the deal that took Romelu Lukaku in the opposite direction. It also a profound impact on the future of David De Gea. Or at least, so it was presumed.
De Gea’s future at Man Utd had been intertwined with that of Morata’s at Real Madrid. The only way Mourinho could sanction a deal for the Spanish international was by allowing another Spanish international to leave as a bargaining chip. It came down to whether he valued the security of an established goalkeeper over the potency of a top-tier centre forward.
But the switching of targets to Lukaku changed all this. Man Utd withdrew all dialogue with Real Madrid, splurging £75 million on the Everton frontman. De Gea, it was assumed, would stay at least another season at Old Trafford. Recent reports, however, claim Real are winding up another approach for the 26-year-old, with Zinedine Zidane intent on making him the club’s latest star.
This will be the litmus test of Man Utd’s summer. By signing Swedish centre back Victor Lindelof and centre forward Lukaku, Mourinho has addressed two pressing needs. The addition of an anchoring midfielder, in the mould of Fabinho, Eric Dier or Nemanja Matic would address another deficiency. By allowing De Gea to leave, though, United would be taking a step backwards. They would risk regression.
The impact it would have on the club’s stature and standing would be profound. Real Madrid have made a habit of poaching United’s best players in years gone by, with the most notable example being Cristiano Ronaldo. On the rare occasion that the dynamic has been flipped, Man Utd were sold a dud in Angel Di Maria, for no less than £59.7 million.
United are at a place right now where they must keep hold of their best players. Mourinho is building a side capable of challenging for the Premier League title, but with competition so fierce at the top of the table progress is precarious. Any misstep could have catastrophic consequences. Allowing De Gea to leave falls into that category.
Of course, it seems inevitable that De Gea will one day become a Galactico. Real Madrid’s interest in the goalkeeper can be charted all the way back to 2015, when a faulty fax machine infamously prevented a deadline day deal being done. Whether it’s this summer or next, or the summer after that, De Gea will surely one day call the Estadio Santiago Bernabeu his home.
But Man Utd must cling to De Gea for as long as they can. They mustn’t forget just how long it took them to find a heir to Peter Schmeichel all those years ago, ringing through countless substandard goalkeepers before eventually settling on Edwin van Der Sar to fill the role. Uncertainty in goals breeds uncertainty in defence. The signing of Lindelof will have been for nothing if De Gea departs.
Manchester United are the most profitable club in world football. They have the financial clout to hold the likes of Real Madrid at arm’s length, and that’s precisely what they must do this summer. After all, that’s what Real did to United over their pursuit of Morata. That should only strengthen the resolve to ensure De Gea plays at least one more season at Old Trafford.