Van Gaal and De Gea's marriage of convenience at Manchester United
After Real Madrid's unaccountably slow handling of David De Gea's planned move to Spain, the goalkeeper is set to remain at Old Trafford for at least half a season more. Depending primarily on De Gea's attitude and that of his boss Louis van Gaal, his remaining time at Old Trafford could benefit the club tremendously.
The first question is whether De Gea would fit immediately back into the team, and there is no reason he would not. There are no reports of his falling out with colleagues, and club staff has frequently praised him for his professionalism.
De Gea was the team's outstanding player last year and mainly responsible for their very respectable defensive record, which was the fourth-best in the league last term. Crucially, not only is he one of the world's best goalkeepers, he is also very familiar with the playing styles of the two men who would be directly in front of him at centre-back, Chris Smalling and Daley Blind.
If De Gea is swiftly returned to the starting line-up, as he should be, he also will benefit from two things he did not have for much of last year -- a settled back four and two full-backs, Luke Shaw and Matteo Darmian, who are among Europe's best in their positions.
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The protection in front of the back four is as good as it has been for several years, following the additions of Morgan Schneiderlin and Bastian Schweinsteiger in the transfer window.
The team also will benefit from De Gea's fine distribution of the ball, which will be essential in exploiting the pace of Memphis Depay and new signing Anthony Martial on the break. With a fixture against Liverpool next up on Sept. 12, Van Gaal should be putting serious thought to restoring De Gea to the side.
Van Gaal's relationship with De Gea will undoubtedly be the focus of much attention, given that the Dutchman said, in remarks refuted by De Gea's camp, that the goalkeeper has not wanted to play this season.
Van Gaal can hardly be accused of handling his player with kid gloves, and a good proportion of the blame must now lie with him. Given that he now has not one but two disgruntled goalkeepers on his books, the other one being Victor Valdes, his people skills can fairly be described as subpar.
Of course, both Van Gaal and De Gea have vested interests in the latter's regular selection. De Gea needs to start often in order to be considered Spain's first-choice goalkeeper for the European Championships next summer, while Van Gaal now knows that the replacement he signed for De Gea, the Argentine international Sergio Romero, is some way below the requisite quality.
Romero has looked nervous when passing out from the back and conceded two goals in the 2-1 loss to Swansea City on Sunday that De Gea likely would have saved.
De Gea should not have any great concern over how fans will receive him. After all, he has made no public pronouncements on wanting to leave, nor has he pledged his undying allegiance to the badge -- the two extremes which, in the event of a transfer, are most likely to arouse fury among a fan base keenly attuned to hypocrisy and disloyalty.
He can still claim to be one of the club's elite players -- perhaps its best -- and has several compatriots there with whom he enjoys a close working relationship.
What is more, there is a strong possibility that he will still get his move to Real Madrid, and given that he will be out of contract in the summer, he will be able to negotiate far better contract terms and a larger signing-on fee.
Both he and Van Gaal, then, are suited by what looks set to be a marriage of convenience, and the Dutchman must be secretly relieved that one of the world's best goalkeepers has fallen back into his lap.
It is a twist of fate that will be of tremendous benefit to Manchester United, both in the Premier League and in Europe.
Musa Okwonga is one of ESPN FC's Manchester United bloggers. Follow on Twitter: @Okwonga.