De Gea: 'I always had faith'
Manchester United goalkeeper David de Gea has spoken of the difficulties he faced in his first season at Old Trafford, but believes he is learning to cope with the demands of playing in England.
De Gea, 21, who faced intense criticism after a string of early mistakes at United, came back strongly in the second half the season to firmly establish himself as the club's long-term No. 1.
Despite his game facing cross-examination in the media over the past 12 months, the Spaniard is confident he is on the right track to succeed as a Premier League goalkeeper.
"My English is getting better," De Gea said in an interview with the Guardian. "I understand most things but I find it harder to speak. English football is different, especially for a goalkeeper. It's more aggressive, more physical. It's far, far harder. The ball is in the air more and you get pushed about. And the referees don't blow anything!"
De Gea was told to bulk up by the Red Devils, with his thin frame a weakness often pointed out by observers. Asked about his work to improve physically, he said: "Eat well and lots of gym work. We're not talking about a huge amount anyway: just four or five kilos. The other thing is that I am still young and I will naturally fill out anyway."
Other reports focused on an eye operation that the club had told the 'keeper to undergo. Again, De Gea explains: "I'm just short-sighted, like loads of people. I wear contact lenses - in fact, I've got new ones - and I can see perfectly well, just like anyone. I don't understand the fuss. I put lenses in and ... perfecto."
Now at the Olympics as first-choice for the Spanish squad, De Gea believes that he is over the worst of the criticism. His on-the-pitch performances have improved and he is now acclimatised to life in England, but De Gea insists he never doubted his own ability.
He added: "There have been doubts in the first season but I always had faith in my ability. The pressure at an elite club like United is huge but Ferguson just told me to do what I did at Atletico. You have to be as strong when things go wrong but I don't get nervous. Mistakes are normal; everyone makes them.
"I think that at times people don't realise that it's not easy. You travel a lot, you work hard. When you come home in Spain, your family are waiting for you. When you're in England, they're not. For a Spaniard it's different.
"What are the worst things? From a Spaniards' perspective, it rains a lot, it's cloudy, it gets dark very early, maybe you're a bit bored. The winter can be hard: playing over Christmas is a big change. The food: it's not bad but it's not the same. You miss friends and family. People don't always appreciate that. There are hard moments.
"But those are the sacrifices you have to make to keep on growing and to improve as a footballer. And when you play, when you go on to the pitch, when you hear that atmosphere, when you play the game, that small sadness gets washed away. And then you're happy."