Updated: Jun 30
The role of a goalkeeper in the game of football has experienced a significant transformation over the decades. In the modern era, the position demands not only shot-stopping ability, but also skill in ball distribution, an aptitude for handling pressure, and a crucial contribution to the team's build-up play.
It's within this framework that the debate over Manchester United's David De Gea's compatibility within Erik Ten Hag's system has emerged. De Gea's shot-stopping prowess is unquestioned, yet his proficiency in the other aspects of contemporary goalkeeping, particularly his role as an effective outfield player, has seen some criticism.
With other internal options like Tom Heaton, Jack Butland, and Dean Henderson appearing limited, the quest for a well-rounded goalkeeper has become a strategic focal point for the upcoming season. In light of this scenario, the spotlight has fallen on André Onana, the Cameroonian international who currently guards the goal for Serie A club Inter Milan. Onana's journey, skills, and performance warrant a closer look for anyone seeking a comprehensive goalkeeper.
Onana's journey, skills, and performance make him an intriguing prospect for anyone seeking a comprehensive goalkeeper. Over time, goalkeepers have undergone a significant transformation in football. The position now requires more than simply preventing goals. In the modern game, goalkeepers are entrusted with various responsibilities.
They play an active role in starting attacks and maintaining possession for their team. Their ability to distribute the ball accurately and efficiently is crucial in initiating quick counter-attacks or participating in the team's build-up play. Moreover, modern goalkeepers face immense pressure in high-stakes situations. They must make quick decisions, anticipate the movements of opposing players, and effectively communicate with their defense.
Mental strength and composure are essential attributes for handling these pressure-filled moments and providing leadership from the back. In addition to their role as shot-stoppers, goalkeepers are integral to the team's defensive structure. They actively engage in one-on-one situations, both on the ground and in the air, to contribute to the team's defensive efforts. Inside the penalty area, they play a vital role in dealing with crosses, corners, and set-pieces. Winning aerial duels and engaging effectively in one-on-one duels with opposing players add an extra layer of security to their team's defense.
The debate surrounding David De Gea's compatibility within Erik Ten Hag's system highlights the changing demands placed on modern goalkeepers. While De Gea excels in shot-stopping, there are concerns about his effectiveness in other aspects of the game. This has sparked interest in André Onana, who currently represents Inter Milan in Serie A. Onana's journey, skills, and performances make him an intriguing option for teams seeking a well-rounded goalkeeper.
Ice cool on the biggest stage
Onana may have ended the night on the losing side, but he was one of the standout players in the Champions League final and was a key factor in Inter making such a contest of a match that many observers predicted would be a one-sided affair.
Manchester City coach Pep Guardiola had spoken about Onana's quality on a number of occasions before the final. In the pre-match press conference, he was asked who Inter's most dangerous player was, and rather than point to a forward like Lautaro Martinez, Edin Dzeko or Romelu Lukaku, he offered a concise analysis of his side's opponents. And he singled out Onana, who he described as "an exceptional goalkeeper to take the position to build-up. Really, really good."
In an interview with CBS Sports, he again praised Onana for helping Inter play out from the back, contrasting the Serie A side's style of play with United: "The goalkeeper, Onana, makes it really difficult to deploy a high press against. You cannot press the goalkeeper properly. They are masters at keeping the ball, right up to the attackers – the likes of Lautaro, Dzeko and Lukaku.
"If you look at United, for example, it is long ball. With [Marcus] Rashford and another one (forward) to run onto. But Inter are different, they keep the ball."
Passing ability of a Midfielder
Onana lived up to Guardiola's billing. In the opening minute of the final, he could be seen dribbling outside of his area, in front of his centre-backs. A few minutes later, when Bernardo Silva ran to press him in his area, he nonchalantly chipped the ball to Federico Dimarco.
Towards the end of the first half, Onana had five City players in front of him and only one real option to hit, but he slipped the ball straight into the path of Marcelo Brozovic, making the pass with the ease of a top-class holding midfielder.
Late in the game, when Inter were desperately chasing an equaliser, many goalkeepers would have resorted to quickly punting the ball forward. But Onana remained calm and courageous, venturing way out of his area with the ball at his feet - closer to the halfway line than his area - and taking on Erling Haaland before finding Lukaku and starting a dangerous Inter attack.
Short passing under pressure is far from Onana's only attribute, and in one moment in the second half he took out seven City players with a curling pass to start a counter-attack. Over the course of the 90 minutes, Onana put opposite number Ederson, once regarded as one of the best ball-playing goalkeepers in the world, in the shade with his passing and dribbling.
The Brazilian came to City's rescue with some fine saves, including tipping away Robin Gosens' shot in the final seconds of added-time. But Onana also performed well with his hands, foiling Haaland from City's best chance of the first half. There was very little he could do about Rodri's winning strike, too.
Goalkeeping stats at inter Milan.
In the summer of 2022, Onana joined Inter Milan. He was brought in to add depth and experience to the squad and has since become a regular starter. At Inter, Onana's skillset appears to have expanded even further.
He now averages 38.0 attempted passes per 90 minutes with a success rate of 79.2%. These stats indicate an improvement from his time at Ajax, where he averaged 27.7 attempted passes per 90 minutes with a success rate of 76.5%. Onana's contributions extend beyond just build-up play; he's also proven to be a robust presence inside the penalty area. His saves per 90 minutes increased from 1.33 at Ajax in the 2021-22 season to 2.58 at Inter Milan in the 2022-23 season. Additionally, his saves ratio improved from 44.4% at Ajax to 72.1% at Inter Milan, and he has kept 8 clean sheets in 24 appearances for his new club.
However, it's not just about the saves and clean sheets. Onana's stats also reflect his effectiveness in one-on-one situations and his aerial prowess. At both Ajax and Inter, he maintained a 100% success rate in duels and aerial duels, although the numbers remain low with 0.3 duels and 0.17 aerial duels per 90 minutes. Despite these lower figures, his perfect success rate implies a strong defensive presence when called upon.
In terms of duels, Onana has maintained a consistent involvement, with 0.3 duels per 90 minutes at both Ajax and Inter Milan. His duel success ratio has decreased slightly from a perfect 100% at Ajax to 85.7% at Inter Milan. While the drop in success rate is notable, it is important to consider that the sample size of duels per 90 minutes remains relatively low for both clubs (0.3). Similarly, Onana's involvement in dribbles and aerial duels remains consistent, with 0.17 attempts per 90 minutes at both clubs. He has maintained a perfect success rate of 100% in both categories, indicating his proficiency in these aspects of one-on-one defending.
When it comes to goalkeeping, André Onana has made notable strides during his time at Inter Milan compared to his previous tenure with Ajax. In his 24 appearances for Inter Milan, Onana has managed to keep 8 clean sheets, a considerable improvement from his zero clean sheets at Ajax in the 2021/2022 season. This demonstrates his ability to effectively shut out opponents and maintain a solid defensive record for his team.
Furthermore, Onana's saves per 90 minutes have shown significant progress, increasing from 1.33 at Ajax to 2.58 at Inter Milan. This indicates his exceptional shot-stopping skills and his effectiveness in crucial moments within the penalty area. His ability to make impactful saves has played a significant role in keeping his team in matches and preventing opposing teams from scoring.
Key to Ten Hag's golden era at Ajax
While European superpowers such as Bayern Munich and Real Madrid were crushed by City, Inter got mighty close to toppling Guardiola's side, and a large part of that was the calmness and control Onana gave them in possession. But that is far from the only reason why United should be trying to sign the goalkeeper.
Onana was Ten Hag's No.1 for the majority of his time at Ajax, and during their time together, they won three Eredivisie titles and reached the semi-finals of the Champions League, outclassing Real Madrid and knocking out Juventus before being eliminated in agonising fashion by Tottenham.
Onana, who first came to Europe to join Barcelona and then moved to Jong Ajax, the Dutch giants' youth side, was a key factor in Ajax's success under Ten Hag. He would frequently start attacks by finding playmaker Frenkie de Jong, and was on hand to offer his defenders a way out of trouble whenever they came under pressure.
Onana had to miss nine months of football between 2021 and 2022 while he served a doping ban for accidentally ingesting the banned diuretic Furosemide, mistakenly thinking it was a paracetamol. But once he was free to play again Ten Hag slowly reintroduced him to the team and defended him from criticism when he first returned, calling him a "masterful goalkeeper".
Letting United play how Ten Hag wants
Ten Hag's Ajax played a very different style of football to his United team, and one of the key differences is that in Amsterdam the coach had Onana and in Manchester he has De Gea. Indeed, the coach asked De Gea to play more with his feet in the pre-season campaign, but after the shock 4-0 defeat at Brentford in the second game of the season, when the Spaniard was responsible for two of the goals, he abandoned his plans to play possession-based football and the team managed to turn their season around by largely playing pragmatic, counter-attacking football.
Ten Hag has stood by De Gea and defended him publicly after his gaffe against West Ham in April and his unconvincing display in the FA Cup final. But on occasion, he has admitted his concern about the Spaniard's kicking, such as after the match against Real Betis in March, when he said he could not ignore his errors.
And after the cup final defeat to City, when asked specifically about De Gea's ability on the ball, he said: "Say it like this, we are in the right direction. But there are occasions in the game, issues in the game we have to improve, definitely, if we want to make the next step and win trophies."
Signing Onana could be the key to United taking that next step and unlocking their true potential under Ten Hag, allowing them to replicate Ajax's free-flowing football which conquered Madrid and Juve, and earned them admirers around the world.
Onana would also be able to link-up again with his old Ajax team-mate Lisandro Martinez, who United badly missed in the final two months of the season after he fractured his metatarsal.
Time to make a statement signing
United have dragged their heels over signing a new goalkeeper for years, and the truth is they did not wish to spend their summer looking for one given the other areas of the squad they need to address. The fact that it is still unclear who will own the club next year makes their transfer business even more difficult to carry out.
But goalkeeper is an area they have neglected for far too long, and in 12 years with De Gea as No.1, they have never given him a proper rival to compete with. One reason why is that they trusted him so much that in 2019 that they made him the Premier League's highest-paid player, handing him a contract worth £375,000-per-week. Having made such a big outlay on De Gea, it made little sense to sign another quality 'keeper to give him a run for his money.
Now De Gea has effectively run his course with the club, they need to make another big statement signing and plan for the next four or five years, as City did when they signed Ederson in 2017 and Liverpool did with Alisson in 2018.
Onana has all the skills a modern
goalkeeper needs, and by taking Inter to the brink of winning the Champions League has proved he has the personality to succeed at the highest level.
Having allowed themselves to become complacent in their long-term search for a goalkeeper, United need to show ambition and leadership and do all they can to bring Onana to the club and reunite him with the coach with whom he first showed his true potential. Then he can help United's reach theirs.The Cameroon international played a big role in the success of Ten Hag's Ajax, and his dribbling and passing ability could transform the Red Devils David de Gea is a loyal Manchester United servant and one of the club's greatest-ever goalkeepers, but after an error-strewn season, his time at Old Trafford is drawing to a close.
The Spaniard has served the club well and in their darkest moments he was so often their hero, a goal-saving machine who prevented the team from falling deeper into the abyss.But as United looked to the future last season under the forward-thinking Erik ten Hag, it became increasingly clear that De Gea's skillset was rooted in the past and holding the club back. While the goalkeeper's shot-stopping ability came under increased scrutiny after conceding a number of soft goals, the biggest concern was his inability to play out from the back and help United maintain possession.
The Spaniard became an easy target, with the likes of Brentford, Newcastle, Sevilla and Manchester City pressing him high and either forcing him into errors or provoking him to launch the ball long, either into the stands or the to the feet of opponents.But just a week after De Gea routinely gave away possession to City in the FA Cup final defeat - as well as being too slow to save Ilkay Gundogan's winning goal - United saw the future right in front of them. In the Champions League final against City, Inter goalkeeper Andre Onana gave a masterclass in controlling and distributing the ball while under pressure. And if United want to build on all the progress they have made under Ten Hag, then they need to go all out and sign the Cameroon No.1.
Collaborated with Ephraim.