“I am the victim, the fellow players are the victims, the club is the victim.”
Those were the words of Manchester United manager Louis van Gaal at his pre-match press conference Friday when discussing the ongoing transfer saga of goalkeeper David de Gea. Reports Friday said that van Gaal will drop the reigning two-time Manchester United Player of the Year due to being distraction as a potential transfer to Real Madrid.
Louis van Gaal is certainly known to say some ridiculous things that can often be dismissed as nonsense, he’s not exactly wrong in this particular case. The context of the quote came from van Gaal’s belief that the transfer window needs to close before the season stars, as it’s ridiculous to prepare for the first few matches when you don’t know which your players will even still be with the club when the day of the game rolls around. So in that regard yes, it is unfair to the players and to the club that the guys they need to rely on to win games may have one foot out the door.
While van Gaal isn’t exactly wrong in this case, he certainly isn’t right either. Louis van Gaal is not the victim in this drawn out transfer saga, David de Gea is.
David de Gea is being punished because he is still a Manchester United player. He’s being punished despite handling this entire transfer story, which has dragged on for almost a year, with class and like a true professional.
This isn’t something new. Plenty of times we’ve seen big clubs court players, leak their interest in the player to the media, and wait for the player to declare their affinity for a move to the bigger club.
To give an example let’s look at three different players involved in transfer stories over the past year: Marco Rues, Bastian Schweinsteiger, and Raheem Sterling.
Last season Rues was the topic of almost every transfer rumor, as he had one year left on his contract (with a tasty €25 million buyout clause) and wouldn’t sign an extension. Clubs like Real Madrid and Chelsea were circling around like sharks waiting for their chance to sign him. Rues, however, remained quiet and didn’t let it become a distraction. He kept up his game on the field and in February he answered the rumors by signing an extension with Borussia Dortmund.
Schweinsteiger was a Bayern Munich legend. After battling fitness issues and a manager that may not have liked him, he was linked with a move to Manchester United. Instead of letting it become a big saga, Schweinsteiger quietly met with Bayern Munich management and requested that if Manchester United (and only Manchester United) were interested in him they should work out a deal that worked best for him and club. A few days later Basti was being introduced as Manchester United’s newest signing.
Sterling had a great year two seasons ago. He responded by demanding a big raise. Liverpool were, correctly, skeptical about giving him a big raise. When the sides couldn’t agree on a number, Sterling reacted by saying he wouldn’t sign a new deal and the club should sell him. Sterling followed up his stellar season with a bit of a letdown season. Was the contract dispute distracting him? We’ll never know, but it’s certainly possible. Nevertheless, Sterling refused to keep quiet about the situation until he got his way and was sold to Manchester City.
Those three scenarios were handled in three different ways but they all have one thing in common: they’ve all been resolved. All de Gea had to do was follow the example of one of those players, sign a contract extension (United offered him a big fat one), quietly tell management that he’d like to move to Real, or take it to the media and act like a baby until he gets his way.
Instead de Gea has done something rather admirable–nothing. By doing nothing, de Gea is letting the club handle the situation the way they want to. United is playing hardball, they don’t want to be bullied by Real Madrid. They believe de Gea is one of the best goalkeepers in the world and therefore Real Madrid should have to pay a transfer fee that reflects that. If they won’t, United feel that de Gea has more value to them playing out the season and leaving for free at the end of the season.
But now de Gea is being punished for his silence. When the players returned to training in July, de Gea was lauded for his professionalism. Now he’s being dropped because van Gaal believes he’s distracted, a belief that comes from de Gea being at fault for one of PSG’s goals during last week’s friendly. If that’s the case, it’s laughable; goalies make mistakes, even David de Gea. Just count your blessings it was in a game that didn’t matter.
We don’t know what de Gea wants. Not signing a contract extension is a pretty clear sign that he wants to leave (there were also reports of him putting his Manchester house for sale), but de Gea has never actually said he wants to go to Madrid. The only person that’s said anything (and the real person pushing for the move) has been his girlfriend.
What we do know is David de Gea is a professional who has handled this whole thing with a truly remarkable amount of class. If he plays, he wouldn’t be distracted. It’d be the opposite; he’d be playing his best as a message to Real Madrid saying “come get me.” Instead he’s being punished for handling the situation the way we wish all players handled these things.
Louis van Gaal isn’t totally wrong with his victim assessment but he is missing who the true victim is. Instead he’s trying to deflect blame away from himself.