Eric Steele, the former United goalkeeping coach, has revealed David De Gea’s career at Old Trafford didn’t get off to a flying start, due to the Spaniard’s “lazy” attitude towards learning English and to his penchant for eating “too many tacos”.
Steele is widely credited with being the figure who turned De Gea from a young, promising yet unreliable goalkeeper into one of the best shot-stopper in the world in the space of two years, after De Gea arrived from Atletico Madrid for £17.8m.
“Calmness, composure and inner strength. Nothing fazes him. Playing in front of 76,000? No problem. Very few possess that,” Steele told the United We Stand fanzine.
“His first six months were horrendous,” said Steele. “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.”
De Gea, continued Steele could “be very solemn in training, he was always better in a group. Solemn because he was tired, mentally and physically. I told him he needed to train better, that he was on show every day. There were times in his first season when he trained poorly. I told him that players made decisions for managers, not the other way around. That he should be first, not last out for training.”
“We needed to be able to communicate with each other straight away, even if it was just the basic terms. David is lazy in his desire to learn English. So I learned. I kept telling him to work on his English.”
The former goalkeeping coach, who left Old Trafford this summer as David Moyes revolutionalised the coaching staff, claimed a 3-3 draw at Chelsea in February 2012 was the turning point in De Gea’s career as he produced a superb last minute save to deny Juan Mata the winner.
“Fans criticised him [De Gea]. The media, too. But the manager stuck by him and protected him in the media. He knew he had a long-term asset. He was only 19 and that was a risk, but the manager had been to watch him with me and knew how good he was.”
Steele acknowledged that the United number 1 could come under intense pressure in the future, with some of Spain top clubs rumoured to be keen to bring him back to Spain, but the former goalkeeping coach has already spoken to his former protege about it.
“I told him not to get sidetracked, that if he did well at United then he’d have a great career. I said: ‘Who would you go back to? One of the big two. Would you want to go to Real, rivals of Atlético?’ No. It would have to be Barcelona, but he sees that United has been good for him. He captained Spain Under-21s in the summer off the back of his United form. He’s going to be with the seniors now in a country with the best goalkeepers in the world.”
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