Manchester United goalkeeper David de Gea would have been forgiven for sitting it out as his side faced Liverpool at Old Trafford on Sunday, with the huge clash coming just days after a groin injury that had threatened to keep him out of action for several weeks.
But, in the words of manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, the Spaniard was ‘desperate to play’ and ‘adamant he was going to make it’. It underlines the type of person and professional De Gea is.
De Gea was expected to be out of action for at least a little while after limping out of Spain’s Euro 2020 qualifier against Sweden with a suspected groin problem last week.
One tabloid estimated a two-month absence, while Solskjaer himself admitted, ‘I don’t expect him to play [against Liverpool],’ when speaking to the media on Friday about Sunday’s game.
The United boss confirmed the issue was ‘less serious’ than initially feared. Even so, De Gea’s involvement came as a shock, but a pleasant one for more than one reason.
Not only did United get the benefit of having their number one goalkeeper in the team, his determination to make sure he was fit enough to play highlights a deep commitment and a clearly strong affection for the club after eight long years in Manchester.
Soon to celebrate his 29th birthday, De Gea recently committed his peak years as a goalkeeper to United after signing a new contract worth a reported £375,000-per-week.
But rather than coasting in an underachieving team on a wage that makes him the highest paid goalkeeper in the world and one of the highest paid players in the Premier League, De Gea is seemingly more determined than ever to prove himself and repay the club that has stood by him.
De Gea obviously cares very deeply about United and the emotion showed when he described the season as a whole following the Newcastle defeat in early October as ‘not acceptable’.
When he signed his new contract, the accompanying interview was full of sentiment about how much United mean to him and how desperate he is to see the club return to the top of the game. De Gea could have gone elsewhere to win trophies, but he wants to win them at Old Trafford.
“All I want is to help this team achieve what I believe we can and win trophies again, together,” he said at the time of the announcement. He also spoke about his role as a senior player and mentor, the club’s history and tradition, and the ‘genuine honour’ it is play for United.
By ensuring he was available to face Liverpool, De Gea set a shining example to his teammates.
It doesn’t matter who you are and how much you earn; this is a huge game. If there was any chance he could have played, he was going to make sure of it. That is exactly what happened.
It may be that other United players, who collectively raised their game as a whole to finally end Liverpool’s run of consecutive Premier League wins at 17, were inspired by his determination, translating into a much better all-round performance than has been seen for months.
As one of the club’s joint longest serving players, De Gea is a dressing room leader. Moreover, in a squad that has been increasingly criticised for a general lack of leadership, he is a shining ray of light, and a strong individual who is beginning to find his voice more and more.
De Gea is already United’s regular team captain, wearing the armband when main skipper Ashley Young – who is not a starter when everyone is fit – is absent, and is almost certain to the next full-time club captain at some point within the next 20 months.
The long-term project will be built around young players, but the role that De Gea is set to play in it is now more important than ever.