David de Gea needs to save his career: Neil Humphreys
Spanish goalkeeper at a crossroads for both club and country
David de Gea faces intense competition from a younger, hungrier rival for his position at Manchester United.
Luckily, he can temporarily escape the uncertainty with Spain, where he faces intense competition from a younger, hungrier rival.
Groundhog Day must feel like a biography of the Spanish goalkeeper's life at the moment.
Whether it's club or country, the same scenario plays on a loop. His career is at a crossroads. Someone else wants his job between the posts, but in two different places at once.
Tomorrow morning (Singapore time), de Gea will take his place for his country in their Nations League opener against Germany, a position he has essentially annexed since 2016.
Or maybe he won't. He might not even be picked. Nothing is certain as long as his form remains so erratic.
And just to add to the intrigue, his major rival for the No.1 jersey is enduring a similar crisis of confidence. De Gea and Kepa Arrizabalaga are two sides of the same wobbly coin.
Both are Spanish goalkeepers once considered among the finest in the world. Both were expected to dominate the English Premier League for their respective clubs. But their careers have stalled instead.
Arrizabalaga has almost entirely lost the faith of Chelsea manager Frank Lampard. The 25-year-old didn't make the Blues' starting line-up in the FA Cup final and rumours persist that Lampard intends to cut his losses.
De Gea's situation at United is more nuanced.
The 29-year-old arguably made more mistakes in key fixtures than Arrizabalaga - and the same kind of mistake, too, which was perhaps even more troubling.
His outstretched body seems to have the coating of an oily sausage when it comes to long-range shots. He slips and slides all over the place. Nothing sticks.
De Gea's inability to keep out routine strikes from Tottenham Hotspur's Steven Bergwijn in the EPL and Chelsea's Mason Mount's in the FA Cup semi-final further undermined a brittle shot-stopper.
But United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has endorsed him, for now. The club's decision to end Dean Henderson's loan spell at Sheffield United and give him an improved five-year deal was hardly a ringing endorsement for de Gea.
ENGLAND'S REGULAR NO. 1
Actions spoke louder than Solskjaer's words. United's future belongs to the 23-year-old Henderson, who hopes to be England's regular No. 1 by the time the delayed Euro 2020 rolls around next June.
De Gea stands in his way. The Englishman cannot catch Gareth Southgate's attention from the bench. Henderson expects regular first-team football next season and has made his ambitions clear to United.
Henderson isn't going to be pacified with tokenistic cup appearances. Besides, the quaint idea of rotating goalkeepers rarely works in practice.
United legend Gary Neville recently insisted that the club's No.1 is the only position that demands a familiar face every week to ensure consistency and clear communication at the back.
De Gea, a four-time Player of the Year at United, has accepted that he should not have spilled Mount's shot, whatever the background noise. A mistake of such magnitude cannot be explained by squad rotation.
So de Gea must start for Spain against Germany. The tournament is less important than the chance to kick-start a renaissance ahead of the new season.
But his United problem repeats itself within the Spanish camp.
Coach Luis Enrique has an out-of-sorts superstar and a rising starlet vying for the same spot (actually, there are two out-of-sorts superstars if you include Arrizabalaga).
The overlapping plotlines are extraordinary. After a terrific campaign with a lesser club, a 23-year-old is ready to usurp de Gea.
But the club are Athletic Bilbao and the goalkeeper is Unai Simon. He earned his first call-up to the senior Spanish side after a stellar campaign with Bilbao.
With key figures missing from both the German and Spanish line-ups, Enrique may be tempted to hand Simon his first senior start.
Simon should certainly feature against either Germany or Ukraine in the coming days, as Enrique takes the opportunity to test his younger players in an unimportant tournament being played behind closed doors.
But de Gea arguably needs the Nations League more to reassert his position or risk being left behind.
La Roja are on an 11-game unbeaten run. United have signed Ajax Amsterdam midfielder Donny van de Beek with the promise of more transfers to come.
De Gea's club and country are moving on.
Only the Spaniard can ensure that they do not move on without him.