David de Gea is the latest No1 to squirm under the harsh glare that shines upon Manchester United goalkeepers.
Fresh debate has emerged after two points were dropped on Sunday at Tottenham Hotspur, when the Spaniard weakly punched a Benoît Assou-Ekotto cross, allowing Aaron Lennon to set up Clint Dempsey, who equalised deep into added time.
Since moving from Atlético Madrid in the summer of 2011 for £18.9m, De Gea has found that the theatre of dreams can be a nightmare arena for United stoppers. The argument centres on whether his lightning reflexes and supreme shot-saving ability compensate for his continuing vulnerability under the high ball and the weak parries that lead to goals, as they did in the 2-1 win over Liverpool the previous Sunday and in the late December 1-1 draw at Swansea City.
According to Gary Neville, who as a former trusted lieutenant to Sir Alex Ferguson should know, De Gea's team-mates are asking the same question. On Sky Sports Monday Night Football Neville, the network's chief pundit, freeze-framed the immediate aftermath of Dempsey's strike to offer a post-mortem in which he claimed three of De Gea's disgruntled team-mates glared in blame at the goalkeeper.
"It's unforgiving, that dressing room," Neville said. "The idea that they go in after and it's a case of: 'Unlucky mate, let's have a drink.' That is not that place. Anybody is misguided if they believe that is what happens."
Neville pointed to his screen. "I want to draw your attention to Nemanja Vidic. He's got the stare on at De Gea. I want you to now watch Patrice Evra, he's not saying, 'Hiya mate, you alright?' He's furious because they've given a goal away, he's looking at his goalkeeper: 'What have you done?'"
According to Neville, even the more junior members of the side mistrust De Gea. "Danny Welbeck is not looking because he's spotted somebody in the crowd he knows – he's looking at DDG," he said. "There is an incredible amount of accountability in that dressing room; this is not a place that is forgiving. This is not a place where you get people who don't confront each other when mistakes are made. Continue to watch Vidic, watch his eyes – he stares at him for three, four, five, seconds. It's not because he fancies him."
However, Michael Owen, also recently at Manchester United, came down on the other side of the argument, writing a series of tweets saying that he felt it was "very harsh" to blame De Gea for the goal. "Who was stopping the cross, why were the defenders so deep?" he asked. "De Gea made less mistakes than most yesterday [Sunday]. In fact, he was brilliant throughout."
Owen then suggested Vidic was more to blame for the goal, mainly because he obstructed De Gea's view and prevented him from getting full power on the punch.
The only view that really matters is Ferguson's. Choosing the right man to patrol the United area has been one of the trickier challenges of his 26-year tenure. With Peter Schmeichel and Edwin van der Sar, Ferguson got it right. In Mark Bosnich, Massimo Taibi, Ben Foster, Tomasz Kuszczak, Rory Carroll, Ricardo López, Fabien Barthez and Tim Howard the Scot recruited keepers for whom the bell tolled early on in their United careers as they buckled under the scrutiny.
Now there is talk that Ferguson may cut his losses on De Gea, though it is difficult to see that happening in the current transfer window. Ferguson switched between the Spaniard and Anders Lindegaard earlier in the season, before he abandoned the experiment after the Dane shipped three goals in 23 minutes at Reading in December.
Barcelona's Victor Valdés and Iker Casillas of Real Madrid, each with uncertain futures, are being mentioned as possible recruits in the summer, though by then De Gea may have finally proven that he can dominate aerially while developing the technique to parry shots away and out of danger.
You feel, however, that he is running out of second chances.
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image: © James Boyes