David De Gea or Dean Henderson: Two goalkeepers fighting for one spot
Photo by Matthew Peters/Manchester United from Getty Images

The contrast in trajectory in the early years of David De Gea and Dean Henderson’s career isn’t spoken about enough. One started his career  at arguably one of the biggest sides in Spain, and the other made his senior professional debut, for a side seven miles from the Manchester city centre at Stockport County.

The rumours continue to swirl about the future of the Spaniard and the Englishman, with Ole Gunnar Solskjaer having to make a tough decision on the goalkeeping position. Both goalkeepers have had their ups and downs, but which will be left standing at the end of the transfer window?

De Gea's decade at United

David De Gea, when he joined Manchester United in the summer of 2011, started poorly and looked to have lacked the confidence and the physique to be a Manchester United goalkeeper.

Eric Steele, United’s former goalkeeping coach admitted later: “His first six months were horrendous.”

High profile mistakes against Blackburn Rovers or West Brom in his debut game, caused a stir due to the young Spaniard being touted as the replacement for former goalkeeper Edwin Van Der Sar.

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The fee was the second most expensive for a goalkeeper at the time, behind Gianluigi Buffon’s £47 million transfer from Parma to Juventus in 2001.

The Spaniard grew into the goalkeeping role having started his United career so poorly, he made an eye-catching last-minute save from a Juan Mata free-kick against Chelsea in 2012.

It was late in the game at Stamford Bridge, with the score at three apiece, that a Mata freekick was heading towards the top corner but De Gea dived across his goal and clawed it out with his fingers keeping the score level. From then on, De Gea’s fortunes seemed to change wearing the red of the Old Trafford side.

During the beginning of the 2012/2013 season, De Gea began to make mistakes again, namely in the opening day 3-2 win over Fulham. Sir Alex Ferguson dropped the Spaniard once again, bringing in Danish goalkeeper Anders Lindegaard.

De Gea was made to fight for his spot in the United team, when United drew Jose Mourinho’s Real Madrid side, De Gea showed his class with an outstanding string of world-class saves, which meant United left the Bernabeu with a 1-1 draw.

From then on, the Spaniard never looked back. Despite United’s obvious downturn on the pitch going from title winners to seventh best was a big drop but the performances of the Spaniard remained consistent.

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Under three separate managers, De Gea’s performances remained consistent, the Madrid born goalkeeper was arguably the best goalkeeper in Europe.

His performances peaked during the 2017/18 season under Jose Mourinho, United were expected to concede 33.9 goals according to the expected goal metric but instead only conceded 28 goals.

The Spaniard was selected for the Spanish national team for the World Cup, this was then his performances may have begun to be on the decline.

After the World Cup, De Gea’s performances slowly declined season after season making costly errors particularly at the end of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s first season in 2019, when an Antonio Rudiger shot was parried by De Gea, straight into the path of the oncoming Marcos Alonso to score. His goalkeeping howler in the FA Cup semi-final against Chelsea led to him receiving harsh criticism.

Since then, the Spaniard’s form has blown hot and cold, he was superb in Rome, practically keeping United in the tie, with a string of wonderful saves to secure them their place in the final. The question marks remain over De Gea’s long term future but what about Dean Henderson, is the Englishman good enough to be United’s long-term goalkeeper.

Henderson trying to oust De Gea

Henderson’s career is a stark contrast to De Gea’s glittering career. The Manchester United youth academy product started his career with the Old Trafford side, before going on loan to Stockport County and Grimsby Town before a successful loan spell at Shrewsbury Town led to his third loan move. 

This was arguably the best decision of Henderson’s career to date, joining Chris Wilder’s Sheffield United.

He joined the Blades whilst they were struggling in the Championship. A superb season for both club and player led to Wilder’s side gaining automatic promotion, with Henderson keeping the highest number of clean sheets in the league that season with 21 to his name.

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The goalkeeper was commanding in the box, demanding of others and was assured with his feet, something that would no doubt have been appealing for the United hierarchy.

The goalkeeper signed a new contract before spending a second season on loan at Sheffield United, this is where the Cumbria born goalkeeper really began to gain credit in the media and indeed within Manchester United.

Henderson again performed above expectations keeping 13 clean sheets in his first season in the Premier League. Also, Sheffield United conceded 33 goals but their expected goals number says they should have conceded nearer 38 goals, suggesting Henderson was keeping out difficult shots for the Blades.

With David De Gea’s errors in big games becoming more and more of an issue throughout the majority of last season, Henderson continued to perform, and the questions were being asked.

It just shows how beneficial these loan deals can be,” said a proud Solskjaer when asked about the English goalkeeper’s loan experience at Bramall Lane. At the end of Henderson’s loan at Sheffield United, a decision needed to be made.

The decision was that Henderson and De Gea would fight it out, to see who would be Solskjaer’s and United’s number one position. Henderson returned and penned a new six-year contract at the Old Trafford side.

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Since then, who the number one will be has become unclear. What is clear, is that one of the goalkeepers will be departing Manchester this summer, the question is which goalkeeper.

Recently Dean Henderson has been the league goalkeeper and De Gea has been the cup keeper, with the Spaniard performing superbly in the Europa League semi-final second leg in particular.

Tonight’s game in Gdansk is the perfect opportunity for De Gea to cement his place if the rumour of his start in the final is to be believed.

The tussle between one goalkeeper, who has the potential to be world-class and one goalkeeper, who Is world-class but seems to be struggling to discover the form he showed during his peak years, is a tense one.

Having two goalkeepers who want first-team football is never a good position to be in, but Solskjaer has handled the situation well rotating the goalkeepers where possible and giving each keeper, the optimal chance to impress.