Eric Steele: David de Gea’s save from Juan Mata in 2012 was his turning point at Manchester United

by Leo Nieboer

Former Manchester United goalkeeping coach Eric Steele has revealed how David de Gea‘s remarkable save from Juan Mata during a 3-3 draw with Chelsea at Stamford Bridge in 2012 marked a turning point in the Spaniard’s career.

Sir Alex Ferguson‘s side had fallen three goals behind but an excellent second half comeback saw Wayne Rooney slam home from the spot twice before Javier Hernandez equalised with a late header.

Chelsea then went on the offensive, and it looked as if Mata’s free kick would sail perfectly into the top corner to give the hosts an injury time equaliser, only for De Gea to pluck the ball out of the air magnificently.

And Steele, who still remains in contact with De Gea five years after leaving the club, recalled how Sir Alex Ferguson told him that the moment was a formative moment for the now best goalkeeper in the world.

“Everyone behind the dugout shouted ‘Goal!’,” he said.

“That was the day Sir Alex looked at me at the bench and said, ‘Now we’ve got a goalkeeper.’ That was David getting to grips with it. That was his turning point.”

It was a save which defied belief. The way the ball arced so perfectly, skimming through the air and inexorably towards the top corner, made it seem as if it was just one of those shots that are too perfect, too crisp, to be saved. Everyone, as Steele notes, was waiting for the net to bulge.

And yet, somehow, De Gea’s arm came across to pad it away. It was ridiculous for a number of reasons: mainly because the Spaniard hadn’t done anything like that before but also because of the way he used his right arm to paw away a shot to his left.

Were he to do that today, however, nobody would be that shocked. That technique with his opposite arm, along with his excellent ability with his feet, has now become a trademark for a genuinely special player. And it was at Stamford Bridge on a cold Sunday afternoon where the first glimpses of that brilliance came to light.

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