Over the past two seasons, David de Gea has solidified himself as one of world football's best goalkeepers, though there won't have been many of us who thought that the Spaniard would still be at Manchester United by this point.
De Gea's future was the dominant story of a chaotic summer transfer window and from the end of last season matters evolved into a case of when - and not if - the player's protracted move to Real Madrid would reach completion.
Real are always on the hunt for the world's best. And having evicted Iker Casillas from his role as first-choice stopper and club captain back in July, the stage was set for De Gea to take his place. Quite literally, in fact.
It's no secret that the former Atletico Madrid man desired (and still yearns for) a return to his home city. And he held all the aces in the pack as Real made their interest known, due to United's failure to extend his contract over the first four years of his Old Trafford career. The player can now effectively do what he wants with his long-term future.
That was a massive oversight on United's part. Had they made significant efforts to extend De Gea's deal through the reign of David Moyes, or through Louis van Gaal's first summer at the club, the Red Devils would be in a far stronger position than they've found themselves in over recent months.
Any attempts made to extend the player's deal since those points have come in vain, with De Gea seeing the opportunity to grasp some control over his destiny by avoiding incoming offers.
He now has one year left on his current United deal. And the club could end up missing out on a fortune for a player they have nurtured from gangly post-teen to one of the greatest in his position as a result. Most of us would expect the 24-year-old to play out the rest of his contract before moving on a Bosman free transfer back to Spain in 2016.
However, after the transfer saga - for this summer at least - came to such a farcical end on Spain's deadline day, United will get one more season out of their main man. Disregarding who is to blame for the collapse of the deal and the player's feelings towards his future, he now has little choice (in a playing sense) than to be professional and to get on with his job.
And while De Gea can choose what he does next, United have - perhaps inadvertently - wrestled some of the power away from him when it comes to the player's short-term goals. But that's come with a little help from Spanish national coach Vicente Del Bosque.
Upon the collapse of the transfer and De Gea's call up to the Spanish national squad, Del Bosque uttered, according to the Guardian: "He needs to be professional and move on from this episode. I hope that he starts playing again and is happy, and if he plays well we can bring him along, otherwise if he doesn't play it will be very difficult for him to come (to Euro 2016)."
There you have it, straight from the horse's mouth. De Gea's chances of representing Spain at Euro 2016 will be thrown into significant doubt if he fails to win his place back in the Manchester United first team.
It may divide opinion, but the club need to make a decision on this matter in the coming days and weeks. And if they mean business - which they really should, considering their bordering-on-pathetic attempts to make an impression in the transfer market recently - they'll drop De Gea down the first team pecking order. Temporarily, at least.
It was loosely reported that United would use De Gea's national desires against him as leverage to get him to sign a new contract. And while it'd mean that Louis van Gaal will have to stand by the largely unconvincing Sergio Romero for a sustained period, leaving De Gea in the cold could be best for the club in the long-term.
Simply, United should continue to seek a new agreement with David de Gea. One that involves him extending his contract, but one that will equally give the player the rewards for his excellent past performances, a signing-on fee similar to or greater than the one Real will offer him next summer and a get-out clause to boot.
And that new contract should come with a renewed guarantee that De Gea will be re-instated as number one, with the chance he craves to earn his place in Spain's Euro 2016 squad. Of course these things are easier said than done, but United's decision-makers need to toughen up a bit and set a precedent.
The key is to find a deal that works best for all parties. De Gea deserves to be paid more than his reported £60,000-a-week salary, though at the same time Manchester United should put the framework in place to make Real Madrid pay a world-record fee for a goalkeeper.
It may take time, but if it's worthwhile and the player gets his wishes next summer anyway, it's a no-brainer. Time to play hard ball.
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