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David De Gea's future at Man United tied to bond with supporters

Whether it was an outdated version of Windows or a broken fax machine on one end or the other, Manchester United fans will be eternally grateful for the act of fate that denied David De Gea a transfer to Real Madrid in the summer of 2015.

It's hard to imagine what current state United would be in now if they had been without the Spanish goalkeeper over the past three seasons. Having been voted player of the season by supporters year after year, his worth to the club doesn't come close to being matched by any one else on the team by a stretch.

The last time anyone could claim to have anything like the same impact on the team was in 2012-13 when Robin van Persie fired United to the title. Had he opted to sign for rivals Manchester City that season instead, it's almost certain they would have been the team crowned champions. He made all the difference.

What makes De Gea's influence depressing for United supporters though is that he isn't the difference between winning the league or not, but instead finishing inside the top four or winning a domestic trophy.

In 2016, while Anthony Martial and Jesse Lingard got much of the deserved credit for their late goals putting United into and winning the FA Cup final, it was overlooked that De Gea's save on a Romelu Lukaku penalty in the semifinal with Everton on the ascendency was what got United there in the first place.

At 1-1 in the final against Crystal Palace, he made an excellent stop to deny a goal bound Yannick Bolasie attempt from creeping inside the post. Then he stopped Dwiht Gayle with his feet when one-on-one after Chris Smalling's red card reduced United to 10 men.

And while these moments don't go down in the history books and don't secure the calibre of silverware United became accustomed to under Sir Alex Ferguson, they help paint the picture of why De Gea is so loved by United supporters. During the international break, ahead of Spain's match against Argentina, De Gea spoke of the warmth of emotion he feels back in Manchester.

"In England I have a great affection and respect that I do not notice so much here," he said.

His manager, Jose Mourinho, has called him the best goalkeeper in the world, while United fans regularly chant his name at Old Trafford. Rumours repeatedly circulate over De Gea's potential future with Real Madrid, but the player himself never gives any indication that there is any truth to them. While playing at the Bernabeu would mean a return to his hometown, De Gea, for one reason or another, appears entirely content in Manchester.

Having his best mates Ander Herrera and Juan Mata at the club, as well as plenty of Spanish speaking South American players, certainly doesn't do any harm, but he will be all too aware that the adulation he currently receives wouldn't be matched if he swapped Manchester for Madrid.

After De Gea played his final game of the 2014-15 season, with supporters resigned to the fact he would be leaving for Real Madrid in the summer, he was applauded off the pitch and his name was sung on repeat. There was no bitterness there, just genuine appreciation for a player who had given them so much and who they were desperate to cling on to.

At the start of the following season, with the transfer window still open, Louis van Gaal opted to leave the goalkeeper out of the team and replaced him with Sergio Romero in the starting lineup for the opening few weeks. Having made it clear that he wanted to leave the club, he may have expected a frosty welcome when he first played at Old Trafford again after the deal fell through, but the supporters were delighted to have him back. The Stretford End welcomed him like the Prodigal Son.

"It's unbelievable, the fans of Manchester United are one of the best in the world and I feel the support of them," De Gea said. "I'm really happy with them. It's difficult to say how I feel with words when they sing [my name]. It's crazy. It's unbelievable to see Old Trafford singing that."

Yet it's likely that De Gea not only enjoys the love from United fans but also escaping the scrutiny of his home nation and, in particular, the fickle Madridistas who even resort to booing and whistling Cristiano Ronaldo at times. Let's not forget that he requested a bed sheet to shield him from the paparazzi when he signed for United in 2011, keen to keep out of the spotlight.

Real Madrid may well come in for him again in the summer, especially if he has a strong World Cup with the national team. His performance in the 6-1 thrashing of Argentina, where he even managed to claim an assist, goes some way to highlighting why he is so coveted.

But United are confident of being able to extend his deal once again and ensure that he spends all of his peak years at the club. Even during Ferguson's reign, that seemed like an impossible task, given the pull of the Spanish giants. Fans feared that while they would have him for several great seasons, but that he would certainly spend his best years in Madrid.

Now 27, De Gea has developed in to the best player in the world in his position and Mourinho's long-term plans will depend on having him in goal. United fans will be wary of always talking about next season, given how badly that has worked out for Liverpool supporters over the past three decades, but if United are to have any chance of recapturing the glory days any time soon, De Gea's presence is vital.