June 20, 2024

BRENTFORD, ENGLAND - AUGUST 13: Thomas Frank, manager of Brentford celebrates after the Premier League match between Brentford and Arsenal at Brentford Community Stadium on August 13, 2021 in Brentford, England. (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)

Manchester United should be doing what Brighton and Brentford are in the transfer market

Man United are at risk of standing still again whilst clubs who were promoted to the top flight in the last six years remain best-in-class for recruitment.

As Manchester United players grudgingly waited for their City counterparts to ascend the steps at Wembley, Peter Schmeichel sidled over to console David de Gea.

Schmeichel was in the BBC studio with Micah Richards, a cheerleader without pom-poms. Schmeichel, the de facto United representative for the BBC’s coverage, was an apt choice.

Schmeichel is so obsequious in his analysis of United that his myopic punditry is nonsensical. He seriously touted Steve Bruce as Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s replacement, having repeatedly backed Solskjaer. Schmeichel is an occasional club ambassador, too.

To many supporters of a certain vintage, Schmeichel is traitorous for his season at City and jubilantly revelling in their win over United in the last derby at Maine Road in November 2002. Schmeichel’s revisionism on that day in his book would make Sir Alex Ferguson blush.

Yet even Schmeichel had already apportioned the blame at De Gea for Ilkay Gundogan’s winner. If Schmeichel was remotely sympathetic towards De Gea, it would not have washed with those who donned red bucket hats at Wembley two weeks ago. Plenty had already given up on De Gea before his dilatory reaction to Gundogan’s trickler.

De Gea lacks allies with his contract scheduled for the shredder next week. In Spain, De Gea’s cold relationship with the country’s media is irrelevant as his international career is effectively over.

Sanchez and De Gea came up against each other in the FA Cup semi-final

United fans are wondering why the club have not been as decisive as the former coach Luis Enrique in 2021. His replacement, Luis de la Fuente, has not recalled De Gea, whose exile from the Spain squad is approaching the two-year mark.

De Gea was once an elusive interviewee, back when Real Madrid saw him as the heir to Iker Casillas. It is not a coincidence De Gea became more accessible in 2019, with Thibaut Courtois a year in at the Bernabeu.

Last year, 10 of us were crammed into a plush room on the 11th floor of the Ritz Carlton in Perth with De Gea which was as congested as a penalty area.

In response to a query from this correspondent as to whether he would end his career at United, De Gea replied: “Yeah, if it’s possible, of course. If they let me stay here I will stay here, for sure.”

Those words ‘if they let me’ take on a different meaning now. Figures at United want to “move on” from De Gea yet United may not move him on.

With no clear replacement identified, United are actively attempting to retain a goalkeeper whose position was under scrutiny as far back as four years ago. Jose Mourinho opined in September 2019 De Gea was “lucky” to receive a salary hike of £375,000-a-week.

United’s dismal run-in the previous campaign was peppered with glaring De Gea errors (Granit Xhaka, Lionel Messi, Gylfi Sigurdsson, Leroy Sane, Marcos Alonso) and three weeks before his renewal he carelessly allowed Patrick van Aanholt to record a rare Old Trafford win for Crystal Palace.

Here United are, four years on, endeavouring to get De Gea back in the Carrington press room again for more signing photos after error-laden months. His performances against Sevilla and Manchester City prevented more years being chiselled onto the honours board.

United had a good first season under Erik ten Hag but the downbeat denouement already makes it feel rather distant. There was a levelling off after the League Cup final and that is a trophy that was never going to merit an open-top bus parade. The club cannot stand as still as its goalkeeper.

Just consider what Brighton and Brentford, two of the best-run clubs in the country, are doing. Robert Sanchez and David Raya, aged 25 and 26, are the Spain internationals who have ousted De Gea from the national team squad and both want out. Brighton and Brentford’s succession plans have commenced before either have left.

Brentford have bought Mark Flekken, a ball-playing ‘keeper who kept 13 clean sheets last term (the highest in the Bundesliga) and cost £11million. Why are United not doing something like that?

Flekken: I'm a ball-playing goalkeeper | Brentford FC

Flekken is 30, cost-efficient and ticks defensive and attacking boxes. If a buyer does not emerge for Raya, wanted by Tottenham, then Flekken has the benefit of easing into the Premier League environment over the next year before Raya leaves.

 

Anderlecht custodian Bart Verbruggen, on United’s radar, is 10 years younger than Flekken and has been touted as a replacement for Sanchez. There are few louder ringing recruitment endorsements than Brighton unearthing a raw gem. Verbruggen was given his debut by Vincent Kompany, who has overseen a remarkable reinvention of Burnley.

Brighton coach Roberto de Zerbi was bold enough to parachute in Jason Steele, a journeyman ‘keeper best known for his porousness in Sunderland ‘Til I Die, when he fell out with Robert Sanchez in the spring. Brighton still finished sixth.

Yet at United, Solskjaer lacked the nerve to outright drop De Gea, cowardly adjusting the pattern of rotation to ensure De Gea started the Europa League final in 2021. He was beaten by all 11 of Villarreal’s spotkicks.

Two years on, he cost United in another final.

 

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