Man Utd: Should Henderson start over De Gea?
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There isn’t too much that can be gleamed from pre-season friendly fixtures, with teams using them merely to get their players’ fitness levels up. However, with Manchester United, it appears Donny van de Beek has worked hard in the gym to turn his Old Trafford career around. And that means he might be the next Cristiano Ronaldo and David De Gea.
Manchester United, a year ago, decided to act.
After being priced out of a deal to sign Jack Grealish from Aston Villa, they opted to fork out £40million on Van de Beek instead.
The Netherlands international had sparkled for Ajax, emerging as one of Europe’s hottest prospects, and big things were expected as a result.
Except, things didn’t go to plan.
With Bruno Fernandes undroppable, and Paul Pogba admired by Ole Gunnar Solskjaer despite his struggles for consistency, Van de Beek barely played.
He made just 19 Premier League appearances last term, scoring once.
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And just four of those were starts, with the midfielder appearing not to be trusted by his manager as he spent the majority of his time warming the bench.
Now, though, Van de Beek looks as though he’s worked hard to turn things around. Against Brentford, last week, he showed off his new physique.
The Dutchman no longer looks scrawny. Instead, he’s clearly put in the graft when it comes to bulking up.
The Athletic recently revealed he went to Amsterdam elite specialised training centre FysioConcep and, with them, created a new plan for his diet.
They also set up more weights-based gym exercises for him to enhance his chances of shining in the Premier League, with the player now likely to reap the benefits as a result.
Now, United will be hoping he’ll follow in the footsteps of Ronaldo and De Gea.
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Both players arrived at the club in need of bulking up but, once they did, became undisputed Old Trafford hits.
Ronaldo joined from Sporting Lisbon in 2003 as David Beckham’s replacement, initially cutting a skinny figure as he struggled to adjust to life in his new surroundings.
But when the club put him on a specific diet and nutrition plan, the Portugal international changed forever.
Mick Clegg served under Sir Alex Ferguson and, speaking in 2020, revealed the work that went in to moulding Ronaldo into a superstar.
“Very early on in his time at the club – in the first couple of weeks – Cristiano had asked me to help him become the best in the world,” he said.
“He wanted to be better than Ryan Giggs. He wanted to be better than everyone.
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“Initially, we worked on strengthening his system to stabilise and prevent injuries. We strengthened his upper body, did a lot of mid-section and core work with an old boxing routine I’d devised.
“As he saw results and grew in confidence, we incorporated a wide variety of power exercises.
“Over the years we looked for more specialised work to make sure he was training harder, faster and more intensely than anyone else we knew, including in the field of up-and-coming brain cognition training.”
And it was a similar story with De Gea, too.
When he joined from Atletico Madrid a decade ago, the Spain international needed plenty of physical improvement.
He was targeted by Premier League rivals, who would bombard him at corners and set-pieces – knowing he couldn’t handle it.
After a 3-2 defeat to Blackburn Rovers in the final game of 2011, he was dropped. But he then returned a player transformed, helping the Red Devils win the title the following year.
In 2014, De Gea opened up on the work done behind the scenes and admitted he became like Captain America, the Marvel superhero.
“I was like Captain America in one year!” he said.
“No, I still do the programme, although not as much as before.
“It is more of a reduced programme now but certainly I did a lot of gym work at the start and it did have a big impact.”
Former goalkeeping coach Eric Steele also opened up on De Gea and the way he changed his body.
“His first six months were horrendous,” he said.
“One issue with him was that he was just 71 kilos. We worked with him on and off the field to make him more powerful.
“We changed his lifestyle. He would finish training and want to go home. When I told him to come back in the afternoon he’d ask: ‘Why?’
“There were lifestyle issues. He’d sleep two or three times a day. He’d have his main meal late at night. He’d eat too many tacos.
“We pushed protein drinks on him straight after training. We physically made him drink. We had him in the gym a lot. He hated it. They don’t do the gym in Spain as much. We needed to build his core strength.”
United will be hoping Van de Beek can be the next Ronaldo and De Gea.
And, if he shows he can be, he may just become an Old Trafford hit after all.
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