If David de Gea was bidding farewell to Manchester United with that heroic display against Roma, then what a way to bow out.
By making 10 saves in the semi-final second leg at Rome’s Olympic Stadium — nine of them from inside the penalty box — De Gea not only sent a message to his manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer about starting the Europa League final on May 26th, he threw up all sorts of questions over his own future at United
The presumption had been, when Solskjaer ditched De Gea as his Premier League goalkeeper for Dean Henderson, that De Gea had begun the long march to the exit door.
The official rhetoric from Solskjaer has been a little different, granted, with the Norwegian claiming he has ‘two Number Ones’ in goal.
But everyone in football knows that doesn’t quite work in practice. It is telling that De Gea hasn’t played a Premier League game since February, and has started just seven of United’s 21 matches since conceding three against Everton midway through that month; albeit some of those were missed while on paternity leave for the birth of his daughter, Yanay.
Despite relegating De Gea to Europa League duties only, Solskjaer couldn’t shy away from praising the Spaniard after the madcap 3-2 defeat to Roma.
He said: “David was vital and was man of the match for me. He was the stand-out performer.
“The final is still three weeks away and we’ve got many games still to play.
“David has put a very good application in of course with his performance. The proof is always on the pitch. You’ve got to perform, and you keep your place in the team when you play well.”
Solskjaer doubled down on his claim about two first choice keepers, though it was again revealing that Henderson came straight back in against Aston Villa at the weekend, and will start the league game that matters most this week — against Liverpool on Thursday.
“We’re Man United and we should have competition for every single spot in the team,” Solskjaer has said.
“I’ve always got top quality players on the bench, whether it is centre-forward, right-wing, right-back, centre-midfield or keeper.
“I’ve said it so many times that I’m the luckiest manager in the world with the two keepers I’ve got.”
De Gea may well play against Leicester this evening (Tuesday), but if he doesn’t make the cut for the Europa League final, where does that leave him?
He is still only 30, comparatively young in goalkeeping terms, and would do more than a serviceable job at plenty of elite teams around Europe. United may have an issue persuading clubs to match De Gea’s sizeable wages and thus a permanent deal becomes unlikely; yet it would be bizarre if they loaned him out to a Champions League rival.
But it’s hard to see De Gea being placated now Henderson has become the man in possession of the goalkeeping jersey.
Even a start in the Europa League final — which De Gea would deserve, no doubt — would seem to be insufficient. The four-time United player of the year wants and needs to be starting games, so Solskjaer has made his bed and must lie in wait for the consequences.
The Roma game may not be De Gea’s swansong, but it would be fitting if he said goodbye to United with a performance of the highest class.
Maybe Dave will save his very best for the Europa League final.