There was heartbreak for Manchester United and David de Gea after their Europa League final loss to Villarreal but had the goalkeeper followed instructions during the penalty shoot-out, perhaps his side would have reigned supreme.
Edinson Cavani had hauled United level in the second half after Gerard Moreno put Villarreal ahead in the 29th minute, but the Red Devils failed to grasp the momentum and after the two teams couldn’t be separated – the European final went to penalties.
But it wasn’t from the spot where he was meant to come up trumps for United. And De Gea will be more upset by the fact that he didn’t save a single one of Villarreal’s 11 penalties.
And now it has emerged that after talking to goalkeeping coaches Richard Hartis and Craig Mawson, De Gea had been handed a note to put inside his towel which gave an indication of which way each opposition penalty taker would go – which was revealed by Sky Sport journalist Angelo Mangiante.
And going off the note, the experienced Spanish goalkeeper ignored the crucial instructions of the Villarreal penalty takers on three different occasions during sudden death.
Moreno, Villarreal’s scorer in normal time, stepped up first and slotted home but De Gea had no guidance as to which side the Spanish striker would place the ball.
He then followed the exact instructions for the next four penalties but when the shoot-out reached sudden death, De Gea abandoned the advice given to him.
Villarreal’s sixth penalty taker, Moi Gomez, stepped up and De Gea was told that he likes to strike down the middle.
But De Gea instead decided to dive to his left as Gomez rolled home into the middle of the net.
Had De Gea followed his notes and stayed tall in the middle of the goal, United would likely have clinched Europa League glory after Fred put away the next spot-kick.
De Gea stayed true to the action plan when Raul Albiol stepped up but Villarreal’s veteran defender in fact went the other way.
But then he decided to ignore the instructions for Francis Coquelin’s penalty. However, it wouldn’t have made a difference as the former Arsenal midfielder struck bravely into the roof of the net to De Gea’s left.
And then with the shootout rumbling on and with the nerves becoming more and more excruciating, De Gea ignored his penalty notes for a third time when Pau Torres struck high into the net. But on this occasion, his decision almost paid off as he got close to the effort.
And then it was the turn of the goalkeepers, and after Villarreal’s Geronimo Rulli – who there were no instructions for – smashed home, the pressure was on De Gea to keep United’s Europa League hopes alive.