Remembering when De Gea got absolutely tw*atted by Andy Carroll – & lived to tell the tale
One staging post on the Premier League’s remorseless quest for global domination came with the staging of its first WWE bout in April 2013.
Upton Park, three years away from demolition, was the perfect setting for such a titanic tussle. Packed full of baying Cockneys, 30,000 of them separated from their inhibitions by liquid confidence, the old ground was the kind of intimidating steel barn normally unseen outside of the Wild West.
And pacing up and down in the claret & blue corner was the home champion, Andy Carroll.
Fed a diet of Red Bull and Smarties for a week before Manchester United came to town, Carroll was free from his constrained role at Liverpool and free to unleash hell on quivering opponents as the figurehead of Sam Allardyce’s West Ham side.
In the red corner was David de Gea, nearing the end of his second season at United and on the verge of winning his first Premier League title.
Much of the discourse since his arrival from Atletico Madrid in 2011 was framed by his appearance; the slim, gawky Spaniard who looked like he would put on a stone during a thunderstorm and was caught nicking Krispy Kreme’s from Tesco.
In terms of weight division, Carroll and De Gea were at opposite ends of the spectrum. In the home dressing room, one could imagine Allardyce drooling as he told his striker to ‘test’ the United goalkeeper.
After both sides had traded goals – Ricardo Vaz Te for West Ham and Antonio Valencia for the champions-elect – came the moment that would ultimately transform De Gea from an ill-trusted makeweight to a United mainstay for the next decade.
Treating a floated corner as the metaphorical red rag, Carroll dragged his hooves impatiently across the turf before propelling himself with the force of a TGV train expressly towards the oblivious De Gea.
As the United shot-stopper attempted to clear the ball, Carroll careered into him with such speed that you expected a cartoon cloud to appear above the pair.
The chin of the West Ham forward connected with De Gea’s head, seemingly intent on separating it from the rest of his body so it would cross the line, be mistaken for the ball and make the referee award the goal.
Patrice Evra, like a teenage soldier on their first day in the trenches, was also wiped out as collateral damage. Carroll’s reaction was simply to brush himself off and wolf down a raw steak thrown in his direction by a beaming Allardyce.
“How did it feel, steamrollered by six-foot-four of Geordie, powering down on him,” Sky anchorman Ben Shepherd purred over assorted shots of United’s goalkeeper being lovingly pulverised. Pretty bad, we’re imagining.
The reaction of both managers could have been stage-written by an Amazonian tribe such was its predictability. “It was a red card, there is no doubt about that,” Sir Alex Ferguson said after the 2-2 draw.
“The referee did see it but he didn’t see it as a red card. We know how West Ham play, it’s ball-in-the-air most of the time and you’ve got to defend those things.
“They are very, very aggressive as we’ve seen tonight. You hope there’s a strong referee. I’m not so sure we got that tonight.”
However, Allardyce disagreed with Ferguson, saying that just a booking would have sufficed and surreally using the Highway Code to explain his point.
“I think at the very most it is a yellow card,” he said. “Carroll is committed to try and go to the header and cannot stop. As you see in your code on the road, if you are travelling at 60mph it takes 300 yards to stop. That happens.”
As for Carroll, the striker protested his innocence before being taken away for his post-match valium.
“I just went for the ball and obviously went through De Gea, but I just went for the ball and that’s all it was,” he told Sky Sports.
“I was running straight in trying to get the ball and couldn’t stop at that moment, obviously the keeper has come and won it and I couldn’t stop when I was flying through the air.”
But De Gea emerged as the real winner from his east-end tw*tting. Pigeon chest thrust forward like the hardest kid at chess club, the goalkeeper visibly grew in stature and further attempts by Carroll and Kevin Nolan to ruffle his feathers were rebuffed with skill.
While the United No. 1 would never be entered into the World’s Strongest Man contest, and never claimed crosses with the confidence of Dracula after a hit of marching powder, he was treated with much more respect by opponents and pundits after this incident.
De Gea would stay at Old Trafford until 2023, making 545 appearances for United and winning the club’s Player of the Year Award on four separate occasions.
You feel none of this would’ve been possible had the goalkeeper not participated in the Premier League’s first WWE bout and lived to tell the tale. Just.
By Michael Lee