De Gea slipped through Wigan net

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ROBERTO Martinez admits he’s still rueing the day the man he believes will soon become the best goalkeeper in the world slipped through his fingers.

Spanish starlet David de Gea is expected to sign for Manchester United after tonight’s European Under-21 Championship final against Switzerland.

The 20-year-old stopper has enjoyed a fairytale couple of seasons since being fast-tracked from the Atletico Madrid youth team to the first team during an injury crisis.

And Sir Alex Ferguson is ready to sign a cheque for around £20million to make him the long-term successor to Edwin van der Sar.

Martinez believes there is little doubting De Gea has the talent to nail down the No.1 jersey at Old Trafford for the next decade or so.

What is less-known is the fact he could have been on Wigan Athletic’s books two summers ago – but for an 11th-hour change of mind by the Atletico management.

“It’s true, we had David signed on a loan deal, but unfortunately on the last day of the transfer window everything fell through,” Martinez told the Evening Post.

“The problem wasn’t on our side of the agreement – Atletico Madrid just felt he had to stay, and they were proved to be right.

“Shortly afterwards, their two senior goalkeepers got injured, he got an opportunity and he quickly became a hero.And everyone has been able to see for themselves the true quality of David de Gea.”

De Gea’s rise to superstardom – he inspired Atletico to the Europa League in his first year and the European Super Cup last term – has been little short of meteoric.

But the Wigan boss is not surprised at how fast the young man has made it to the top.

“We followed him for a long, long time, and we have always known how good he is,” Martinez added. “He has matured so much at such a young age, and the price tag Manchester United are talking about already looks to be a bargain.”

Spain are looking to add the title of European Under-21 champions to their existing titles of senior European and world champions by seeing off Switzerland in the final.

And Martinez feels his countrymen are reaping huge rewards for their long-term approach in ensuring all of their teams play exactly the same way.

“The success that the Spanish senior side are enjoying shows it’s not so much down to the players themselves, but the model,” said Martinez.

Meanwhile, Steven Caldwell has not given up hope of staying with Latics despite being released at the end of last season.

The 30-year-old defender joined on a 12-month deal last summer but found opportunities hard to come by when his brother Gary regained full fitness after double-hip surgery.

“I’m basically a free agent as I don’t know what’s going to happen with Wigan,” Caldwell said.

“I was under the impression there was the possibility of staying for another year if I wanted.

“But no matter what happens, I most definitely enjoyed the opportunity I had there.”