David De Gea faces Real Madrid dilemma but United confident he'll stay
It is becoming an annual event: The tug-of-war between Manchester United and Real Madrid for goalkeeper David De Gea is unleashed with each opening of the summer transfer window.
United have won the last two battles and now they're heading for a third. It could be the last. Or maybe not.
Having come so close to signing De Gea in 2015, Real Madrid have made no secret of their search for a replacement for Keylor Navas. So keen were they to sign De Gea two years ago, they were willing to send the Costa Rican to Old Trafford as a makeweight.
Navas has won the Champions League and a Spanish title at the Bernabeu and could add a second Champions League title in Cardiff on Saturday. But, as far as Real president Florentino Perez is concerned, he is not a Galactico. Not in the same way that Spain's No. 1 is.
Sources have told ESPN FC that United are confident De Gea will stay. He's got two years left on his contract with the option of another and, more than that, the 26-year-old has given no indication that he wants to leave -- privately or in public. That's not his style, anyway.
Jose Mourinho was key in convincing De Gea to stay last summer but the United manager does not make a habit of keeping players who would rather be elsewhere. He didn't want to sell Juan Mata to United when he was in charge at Chelsea; he wanted to keep Morgan Schneiderlin and Memphis Depay in January. But they all wanted to play more regular football and Mourinho let them leave, albeit reluctantly.
Commitment to the cause is central to the atmosphere Mourinho wants to create in the dressing room. It would be harder to jettison one of the world's best goalkeepers, as opposed to squad players like Schneiderlin or Memphis, but Mourinho doesn't beg players to stick around. Whoever they are. Even when asked about the future of Zlatan Ibrahimovic after he scored the winning goal in the EFL Cup final in February, Mourinho said: "We don't beg but if needed, United fans go to his house and sit there all night."
Mourinho has also shown with his actions that no player is bigger than the club. He kept faith in No. 2 Sergio Romero in the Europa League final, his biggest game as United manager, and Wayne Rooney's status as club-record goal scorer has proven to be no obstacle in leaving him out of the squad.
So De Gea faces a dilemma this summer. It should be no surprise that a footballer who grew up in Madrid would, at some stage, like to play for Real Madrid. There are personal issues at play, too, with his girlfriend, singer Edurne Garcia, splitting her time between Spain and England.
Eventually, though, it will be too late. Perez will, eventually, turn his attention to other options like Chelsea's Thibaut Courtois or Milan prodigy Gianluigi Donnarumma.
It is different for an outfield player. Cristiano Ronaldo deferred his move from United to Real Madrid for 12 months in 2008, but a goalkeeper is either first-choice or he's not. And interest in De Gea would disappear if Courtois, Donnarumma or someone else signed up to be Real Madrid's goalkeeper for the next decade.
United certainly hope that is how the saga will end, preferably sooner rather than later. And it becomes a more likely scenario with every approach that United successfully bat away.
Whatever happens this summer, executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward is in a strong position. He was fighting a losing battle in 2015 knowing De Gea only had a year left on his contract. This time, the odds are stacked in his favour and he would demand a world-record fee for a goalkeeper before even considering letting De Gea leave.
Yet despite the posturing between United and Real Madrid, Woodward and Perez, the decision, ultimately, is down to the player. United are convinced De Gea is happy: He is among the highest earners at the club and, privately, has admitted his appreciation of the support he has received from the fans after coming so close to leaving. He was won over by Mourinho's charm last summer and sources have told ESPN FC he is satisfied United are showing the right ambition.
The Champions League is the one thing missing from his CV and United will be back in the competition next season. The question he must ask himself, though, is whether he would be happier in Madrid. And whether, if he says no this time, he would be comfortable never getting the opportunity again.
Rob is ESPN FC's Manchester United correspondent. Follow him on Twitter @RobDawsonESPN.