Eric Steele began his playing career as a goalkeeper at Newcastle United in 1972. His next club was Peterborough United where he established himself as first-choice keeper and set a record for most consecutive league appearances (124) that still stands today. Within the next 12 years he moved from club to Brighton & Hove Albion, then Watford, and finally Derby County. He won five promotions in his time with these clubs.
Steele then retired to run a pub in 1988 before establishing Eric Steele Coaching Services, which provided goalkeeping coaching to Manchester City, Leeds United, Derby County, and Barnsley, as well as working overseas in Australia, Switzerland, Norway, Germany and the United States.
He took on a permanent position at Derby County for four years, starting 1997, before being appointed goalkeeping coach at Aston Villa in 2001. He even had a stint as the manager before Martin O’Neil was appointed. In 2007, he became the new Manchester City goalkeeping coach, following the departure of Tim Flowers to Coventry City as assistant to Iain Dowie.
When Mark Hughes was given the Manchester City job he opted to bring in his own backroom staff and deemed Steele surplus to requirements. He was snapped up by Paul Ince just weeks after he was made manager at Blackburn.
However, our goalkeeping coach, Tony Coton, was then forced in to retirement through injury and recommended that we went for Steele. Steele had been Coton’s coach when he played for City and he thought very highly of him.
“We have approached someone for the job and we’re waiting for clearance to employ him,” Ferguson said at the time. We were given clearance and Steele became our goalkeeping coach, with the suggestion that we loaned Danny Simpson to Blackburn to sweeten the deal.
“Eric Steele was my goal keeping coach when I was a player at Manchester City, and it soon became evident that after just a couple of training sessions that Eric was a unique and talented coach,” Coton said. “Eric was different due to his innovative teaching style. Every session was a challenging and interesting, and his breadth and depth of knowledge was second to none. Because of this I decided to call Eric “The Guru”, a name that he is now known by throughout the Premier League.”
It was just a few months after joining the club that Steele was making the headlines after playing a crucial role in our 2009 League Cup final win. Despite Edwin Van der Sar still being at the club, Ben Foster played in the final after being our keeper in that competition in the previous rounds. A 0-0 draw against Tottenham Hotspur meant we went to a penalty shoot out, with Foster saving one and Spurs missing the target with another.
“We have done a lot of research into the way each player is going to put their penalty,” Foster said after the game. “We went into the shootout as well prepared as possible. We have had things to look at over the last couple of days and before the shootout you can see me looking at an iPod with Eric Steele. It had actual video on it and showed where players put things. It is a new innovation for us. Eric brought it when he came to the club. I have never seen anything like it. It is a fantastic tool for us. But when it comes to penalties, goalkeepers cannot lose. We are not expected to save them. If we do, it is a bonus.”
Foster’s comments on Steele’s help were all over the papers, much to our coach’s embarrassment.
“I am finding all the fuss a little embarrassing,” said Steele. “I even had calls from Italy this week asking if we would be using the iPod against Inter Milan in the Champions League if the game goes to a penalty shoot-out. But it is just part of the research you would expect from a club of Manchester United’s stature.”
Steele’s more recent success is the development of David de Gea, who joined the club with bags of potential but who understandably needed time to adjust to the Premier League. He was given an awful time in the press, with every mistake magnified and every not performance not given the praise it deserved. At the end of his second season, De Gea has been voted by the PFA as the best keeper in the league, and Steele has to take some credit for that.
To help De Gea’s development, Steele showed his dedication to the cause by learning to speak Spanish. Following a superb performance from our keeper at the Bernabeu earlier this season, Steele spoke about how De Gea had dealt with all the criticism in the past.
“In Spanish we call it cresta cabeza,” he said. It means, literally, quiff-head. “Any criticism goes off that quiff. That is the great thing about him. He’s able to say: ‘Right, fine.’ He might have dark moments but he keeps them away from the training ground. If he is ever hurt, he doesn’t show it.”
Whilst Steele had been going to Spanish lessons, De Gea has been going to English lessons twice a week with team mate Shinji Kagawa. In the press conference for the Real Madrid game, De Gea was the player Sir Alex Ferguson took with him. “He was disappointed he got only two questions,” said Steele. “He was ready to answer some in English!”
The difference in our keeper between when he first joined and now is massive. My only fear is that he will leave before his peak, but we’ve at least got a few years ahead of us with one of the brightest goalkeeping talents in European football and we are indebted to Steele for that, who watched him play at Atletico Madrid and who has been De Gea’s biggest cheerleader since he first signed.
“You bring a boy into the Premier League at 20,” Steele said. “It’s not easy. He’s learning in the toughest environment in the world. But the one thing he has is fantastic inner strength. We teach him that the calmest man on the field has to be the goalkeeper. And one of his great strengths is his calmness. There have been dark moments but he has his family close to him. He doesn’t read the press. All the other mediums are there, which he knows about. But everything that has been going on around him for the last four or five months … trust me, he’s very mature for his age. He’s had to be because you’re not just replacing a goalkeeper in Edwin, you’re replacing a legend. It’s not just about the shot-stopping. There’s more to it. Put it this way, if you think about what David has been through, he has to have inner strength. He has dealt with it. And he’s such a likeable lad. He hasn’t come in swearing and squeaking. He’s just got on with his job. We bring in a lot of young players here. The manager has always done that and, if you’re bringing in young players, you have to have confidence in them and let them build and thrive. We just put the shield up. You’re there to be shot at but that’s fine, you deal with it. And David will be fine. He has always been a goalkeeper. He believes he was born to be a goalkeeper.”
The club has today confirmed that Steele is not part of David Moyes plans as he looks to bring in staff he’s worked with at Everton.
Thanks for everything, Eric. Best of luck in the future.