Having trained with the club since October, Victor Valdés is set to officially sign an 18-month contract with Manchester United, according to widespread reports on Wednesday. Valdés, a three-time Champions League winner with Barcelona, has been without a club since leaving the Camp Nou at the end of his contract in the summer and had been working at United to regain fitness after suffering a cruciate ligament injury in March. On the face of it, a free-transfer signing of a player of Valdés’s pedigree, who at the age of 32 is still in what’s considered the prime years for a goalkeeper, is a fine piece of business. Yet, it raises more questions than it provides answers, particularly about the future of David de Gea.
Long in the shadow of Spain captain Iker Casillas, Valdés’s talents were often underrated at Barcelona. But, while as a part of Barcelona’s passing machine his ability with his feet stood out, he was a top-class all-round goalkeeper. Now, though, Manchester United already have a world-class goalkeeper, one who is getting better all the time and who is seemingly ready to supplant both Casillas and Valdés as Spain’s No. 1.
In the short-term, having both of them at the club will provide Louis van Gaal with the kind of competition he wants among his squad. Valdés will almost certainly be seen as an upgrade over backup Anders Lindegaard. But goalkeeping is the one position where two ambitious, quality players cannot exist for very long. After so much success, is Valdés now ready to play the role of loyal understudy, ready to step in when needed and be thrown the occasional game here and there? It seems a doubtful prospect.
Instead, Valdés’s signing raises more doubts about De Gea’s future. The 24-year-old, who arrived for a large fee from Atlético Madrid in 2011 and initially struggled with the physical demands of the Premier League before being named Manchester United’s Player of the Year last season, will be out of contract in the summer 2016. It is already past the two-year’s-remaining mark at which point clubs generally like to get players tied down before the balance of power in negotiations shifts. When asked about the situation last month, Van Gaal refused to enter into a discussion.
“That is between the club and the player and it is not open for discussion for the media," he said.
Always lurking in the background is a return to his home city, not to former club Atlético, but the current European and world champions Real Madrid. Spanish publication Marca, which has close ties to Real Madrid, has stated in the past that both Madrid and De Gea were keen on a deal, with it potentially happening this summer if he doesn’t sign a new contract with Manchester United.
While De Gea has apparently overcome the homesickness he experienced when first arriving in Manchester, a move back to Madrid for arguably the current best team around, would surely prove an enticing prospect. In public, at least, De Gea has played down such talk.
“Those are rumors. I am happy here,” he told German magazine Kicker in October.
But it is easy to see why the move makes sense and why reports of it have increased following Valdés’s impending signing. Casillas may have bounced back to a degree from the suspect form he displayed toward the end of last season with Madrid and then spectacularly at the World Cup, but a sense remains that his reflexes can no longer compensate for the lack of command he exerts over his penalty area when the ball is in the air. His current understudy, Keylor Navas, is a fine stopper, but unlikely to be the figure to make the position his own at a club which is almost as much focused on image as ability. De Gea could fit the bill, with United now having already put his replacement in place.