David de Gea is not among the first names on the team sheet at Manchester United merely because he forms the last line of their defence, he now enjoys such a standing on merit.
It could be argued – taking form over the last 18 months into account – that he is now THE key man for the Red Devils.
Wayne Rooney may be skipper and attacking talisman in chief, Angel di Maria a £60 million talent and Michael Carrick a key cog in the midfield engine room, but it is United’s Spanish shot-stopper who has been raising the bar in terms of consistency and value to the collective cause.
He has come a long way from his early days at Old Trafford when it appeared as though Sir Alex Ferguson had made an expensive error in taking a gamble on a then 20-year-old goalkeeper.
De Gea had been drafted in to fill the sizeable boots of the retiring Edwin van der Sar, and the challenge threatened to overwhelm him as he struggled to get to grips with the physical and mental demands of the Premier League.
Those troubles are a distant memory now, though, with an impressive return to form seeing him billed as a possible successor to the iconic Iker Casillas for club and country.
Former United man Andy Goram believes such talk is fully justified, with De Gea having shown that he is among the best in England and deserving of transfer talk suggesting that he could soon be a big-money target for La Liga heavyweights Real Madrid.
He told Sky Sports News: “All the respect in the world for him. When he first went to United, he looked a waif of a guy, he wasn’t very physical. He’s obviously worked on that, they’ve had him in the gym, he’s a physical specimen now, he’s a big lad and he deals with everything a lot better.
“He had a bad period in the middle of his season a few years ago, a really bad period, but he’s only a young man so for him to come back and produce what he’s producing now and get over the bad times that he had, it says a lot for his character.
“People were talking about him going to Real Madrid a few weeks ago and he wouldn’t be out of place at Real Madrid either. He’s one of the most improved goalkeepers I’ve seen and his performances now have been spectacular.”
United will have no interest in discussing a possible deal with Real, with De Gea having been snapped up from their cross-city rivals Atletico Madrid as a long-term option in their number one jersey.
They have invested a considerable amount of time and energy into his development and fully intend to be the ones to reap the rewards.
De Gea has also expressed no desire to head home any time soon so while reports of interest from afar may be flattering, it appears as though he remains fully committed to the Old Trafford cause.