Manchester United have acted with uncharacteristic ruthlessness by replacing David de Gea with Andre Onana – and Old Trafford regulars should be in for a treat with their new goalkeeper.
Onana has established a reputation as one of the world’s best goalkeepers, with his feline-like reflexes and footwork that’s trickier than a master’s in microchemistry.
As De Gea floundered between the sticks last season, veering from match-winning saves to gaffes that should’ve been accompanied by the narration of Danny Baker, it was impossible to escape the conclusion that United couldn’t progress without a new goalkeeper.
The club handled De Gea’s exit messily, like somebody giving their partner half-hearted reassurances while openly surfing Tinder on the sofa next to them, but it’s hard to disagree that United have eventually done the right thing.
And Onana has the potential to become the club’s version of Ederson and Allison; an instant upgrade in a key position that elevates the rest of his team-mates as they stop having kittens whenever the ball goes near their own goal.
The Cameroonian clearly has a penchant for teasing opposition strikers, dangling the ball in front of them before whipping it away gleefully, and loves nothing more than unleashing his inner midfielder with ambling dribbles upfield.
It’s rare that a goalkeeper can be described as ‘worth the admission fee alone’. But Onana slots comfortably into that category.
André Onana – it's going to be fun pic.twitter.com/15UxoFc76p
— Aidan Walsh 🔰 (@AidanWalshMUFC) July 16, 2023
“Andre has always stood out for his ability with both feet, and that is something we worked on a lot, left and right,” his former La Masia coach Sergi Ucles told The Athletic in July 2023.
“At the start, maybe he found it more difficult to find the right passes, to see where there was (numerical) superiority on the pitch.
“Also he stood out a lot in one-on-one situations, he is a keeper who is very big, and manages these types of situations very well. And he is very powerful, his lower body, that spring, the physical qualities that mean he can do things others can’t.
“He is a pretty complete goalkeeper. Maybe when he was younger he really wanted to show what he could do, and took many risks.
“But playing regularly in the Ajax first team, he made a jump in quality with experience – his positioning, keeping calm, knowing how to manage different moments of the game.”
His move to Internazionale in 2022, after the fall-out from his UEFA drugs punishment that saw him miss nine months at Ajax, saw him quickly usurp long-standing No.1 Samir Handanovic.
“For the way they play, with the high press, Onana is an exceptional goalkeeper to take the position to build up. Really, really good,“ Guardiola said before the Champions League final.
“Identifying the space and emptying the midfield is a special quality. Normally, teams have great keepers but he (Onana) is exceptional with his feet.”
But it was the Champions League that also demonstrated Onana’s more conventional qualities; he kept eight clean sheets in 13 games in the competition, including shut-outs in five of the six games through the last 16, quarters, and semi-finals.
It’s inevitable, in our narrative-fetishising Premier League, that Onana will drop a b*llock at some point next season. Possibly involving dropped shorts as well as a dropped ball. You can only tempt karma so often.
But with his razor-sharp passing and larger-than-life character, the goalkeeper has every chance of propelling United closer to their Premier League summit.
By Michael Lee