MANCHESTER, May 18- Manchester United goalkeeper David de Gea’s future is up in the air after manager Louis van Gaal acknowledged the threat of Real Madrid’s reported interest in signing him.
De Gea was forced off by a hamstring injury during United’s 1-1 draw at home to Arsenal on Sunday and, with Real Madrid thought to be preparing to pounce, it may have been his final appearance for the club.
While Van Gaal professed not to know if Madrid have made a formal offer for De Gea, who began his career with their cross-town rivals Atletico, he accepts that his club face a struggle to prevent the 24-year-old falling into their clutches.
Asked if he had accepted that De Gea was heading for the exit, Van Gaal responded: “You are asking things I cannot answer, because I don’t know.
“I have said a transfer is an individual thing. It’s also a process. He has to decide. We have given a fantastic contract (offer) because we want him to stay.
“But I analyse his position and then I say he is Spanish, he is a Spanish international — still behind (Iker) Casillas — and now a Spanish club is coming.
“His girlfriend is Spanish, his father and mother come every week or two weeks here to watch, and still it is difficult for him. It’s a big compliment for Manchester United.”
United have been happy to do business with Madrid in the past when it has suited them, with Javier Hernandez’s loan move to the Bernabeu this season echoing previous transfers involving David Beckham, Gabriel Heinze and Ruud van Nistelrooy.
But they also endured a long, ill-tempered stand-off with the 10-time European champions over the services of Cristiano Ronaldo, who eventually left for the Spanish capital in a world-record deal in 2009.
British press reports suggest United have already drawn up a shortlist of potential replacements for De Gea, with Tottenham Hotspur’s Hugo Lloris and Chelsea’s Petr Cech among the players who have been cited.
De Gea’s premature departure against Arsenal enabled his countryman Victor Valdes to make his United debut, four months after signing, and the former Barcelona goalkeeper is likely to be required to deputise again at Hull City on the season’s final day.
– Inconvenience –
United led 1-0 through Ander Herrera’s 30th-minute volley when De Gea left the fray, but Arsenal equalised eight minutes from time when Theo Walcott’s cross-shot was deflected past Valdes by home substitute Tyler Blackett.
Arsenal can effectively secure third place in the Premier League table, and with it a Champions League group-stage berth, by avoiding defeat at home to Sunderland on Wednesday in their game in hand.
Van Gaal conceded he would rather avoid the inconvenience of entering the Champions League in the play-off round in mid-August — predicting a pair of “stressful games” — but he drew heart from the support of United’s fans.
“It’s amazing when you are fourth and they are shouting and clapping their hands so long for us,” the Dutchman told his post-match press conference.
“I feel the warmth of the fans. I like it very much. I had never that experience in my other clubs.”
Reflecting on the prospect of avoiding the Champions League play-offs, Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger said: “It takes the pressure off during the holiday period and in the preparation.
“You have always that in mind when you prepare, so it will be great when we do it, but it is still to do.
“We have two home games. Let’s focus on the next one. We can secure that on Wednesday night against Sunderland.”
Sunday’s draw followed Arsenal’s 2-1 win at Old Trafford in the FA Cup quarter-finals in March, and they have also recorded wins over Manchester City and Liverpool since the turn of the year.
“We feel we have made progress compared to last season,” Wenger added.
“We have been stronger against the big teams, so that’s a good platform to do better.”