Speaking to United We Stand fanzine, former Manchester United goalkeeper coach Eric Steele dropped some gems on his former pupil David de Gea’s lifestyle and training habits when he first joined the club.
Steele says the Spaniard was “lazy in his desire to learn English,” so Steele took Spanish lessons instead, to be able to communicate with the player. De Gea is still taking English lessons, after Steele got the axe when David Moyes took over as manager from Sir Alex Ferguson.
“His first six months were horrendous,” Steele said (via The Guardian). “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.”
Beyond highlighting the expected cultural differences between England, where goalkeepers must be big and beefy, and Spain, where slimmer figures the likes of Iker Casillas and Víctor Valdés reign, Steele’s story is one of a 19-year-old struggling to adjust to working conditions in a new country.
Despite having the “calmness, composure and inner strength” to play in front of massive Premier League crowds without a second thought, de Gea remained homesick and unable to adapt. It showed in his inconsistent performances, which he recently reversed to be named into the Professional Footballers’ Association Team of the Year last season.
“The manager stuck by him and protected him in the media,” Steele said. “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.”
Two years later, de Gea has nearly turned his situation around. Despite the pressure surrounding United after its horrendous (by its standards) start to league play and the Champions League group stage, none of the criticism seems to have fallen on the goalkeeper’s shoulders.