Sir Alex Ferguson's gamble on a 20-year-old goalkeeper who has played less than 100 first-team games is a safe bet according to the man who gave David de Gea his debut at Atletico Madrid.
Manchester United confirmed yesterday De Gea is to join them on a five-year contract for a fee believed to be £18m. "I feel very proud and I can't wait to start playing here," he said "When a club the size of Manchester United comes in for you it obviously makes you very, very happy."
Abel Resino – also a former Atletico Madrid goalkeeper – handed De Gea his first start in October 2009 when he was first-team coach. He believes the keeper has the same cool head on his shoulders as another young Atletico Madrid star who adapted to the Premier League – Fernando Torres.
Resino, who watched both prodigies emerge, said: "They both had to make their debut at a very young age and with a lot of responsibility on their shoulders. Atletico Madrid is a tough club and you don't make it if you are mentally weak. De Gea has the most important thing to succeed in England – a self-belief and an inner calm in his own ability that will mean he does not let one mistake ruin him. The ability to put any mistake you make on the pitch past you immediately is priceless for a keeper and he has that.
"He is not a 10 out of 10 keeper in any one aspect but he is a very complete keeper – he can do everything – and he has a great capacity to learn quickly. He is replacing a very good goalkeeper but he can become even better than Van der Sar in time."
Resino once held the record for consecutive minutes without conceding a goal in his time playing for Atletico – eventually topped by Van der Sar who De Gea so resembles and who he must now replace. The Spanish were calling De Gea "van der Gea" as far back as 2007 when he was the penalty shootout hero for Spain's U-17s when they knocked Belgium out in the semi-finals of the European Championship.
The similarities were as striking four years ago as they are now. Spain won that penalty shoot-out 7-6 before beating England in the final. This year he became a European champion at Under-21 level and there was another penalty save along the way – this time in the group stages against Ukraine.
"He has shown that he is a winner and someone who can handle big finals," says Resino.
He played an important part in Atletico Madrid's Europa League triumph in 2010 playing in the final against Fulham in Hamburg. He also played in the Spanish Cup final the same year and kept up the record of important penalty stops by saving from Internazionale's Diego Milito as Atletico won the European Super Cup at the start of the following season.
Resino says De Gea will be well aware of the strides he needs to keep making and the way he needs to adapt to the English game. "You need to be very good with your feet in England," he says, "and the concentrations levels need to be very high because the game never stops. The play goes back and forth far more than in Spain. There are also more high balls to deal with."
United fans' only fears will be that as he matures as a keeper he will begin to miss home in the same way that Cristiano Ronaldo did before joining Real Madrid and as Cesc Fabregas continues to do – a real problem when a player is reaching his peak.
Much will depend on De Gea's ability to adapt off the pitch says Resino. "In many ways the changes away from football will be the most drastic ones," he adds. He currently dates singer and Spanish TV talent show star Edurne. The 25-year-old was the talk of Spain's recent U-21 European Championship success tweeting support for her partner who, it is expected, she will follow to Manchester. That and a new professional relationship with agent Jorge Mendes should give the player some stability. But Resino paints the picture of a player whose own self-belief is more than capable of sustaining him.
"Back in 2009 he was third choice and the club thought about sending him out on loan," Resino recalls. "He told them he did not want to go anywhere because he was going to be a success at Atletico Madrid." A Europa League, a European Super Cup and an £18m move to Manchester United later, De Gea has shown that faith in his own ability was not misplaced.Reuse content