Manchester United coach Emilio Alvarez lifts lid on relationship with David de Gea
David de Gea’s goalkeeping career might not have hit its astronomic heights had it not been for Emilio Alvarez’s intervention when the Spaniard was just 17.
Alvarez, on the books as goalkeeping coach at Manchester United since Jose Mourinho’s appointment as manager in 2016, had been taken to Atlético Madrid by Quique Sánchez Flores and vouched for de Gea’s potential when others at the club were less convinced.
His judgement was soon proved right, however, and after two impressive seasons in the first team at the Vicente Calderón, de Gea moved to United to succeed Edwin van der Sar at the tender age of 19 in 2011.
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“It was when he was fourth-choice after Asenjo, Roberto Jiménez and Yoel,” he said of his first involvement with de Gea at Atlético.
“They were thinking about sending David out on loan but after the first training session I said to Quique: ‘We’ve got to play him’.
“He was 17 and was really skinny, but he had talent.”
De Gea’s start to life in the Premier League was shaky, with the physicality of English football causing the slightly-built goalkeeper considerable difficulty.
But it was testament to de Gea’s drive that he went on to become one of the world’s best goalkeepers in the intervening years, with his performances improving still once his working relationship with Alvarez resumed two-and-a-half years ago.
Alvarez believes de Gea’s greatest strength is his mental resilience, which he believes is key in the Premier League.
“This competition has a lot of nuances which make it different from any other,” he explained.
“The style of play, the fast transitions and the refereeing criteria are different.
“The climate is another factor, when the goalkeeper has little to do on a cold day they’re affected – as they are when they’re soaked.
“It effects their ability to concentrate and to be comfortable which can impact their performance. That’s why mental work is fundamental.”
Alvarez was retained on United’s coaching staff after Mourinho‘s sacking in December when the former Spanish second-division journeyman had expected to leave the club.
He is known to be popular in United’s first-team squad – particularly among the Spanish contingent – and is well-respected in coaching circles.
“It came naturally to me,” Alvarez said of his transition from goalkeeper to goalkeeping coach.
“The role of a goalkeeping coach wasn’t particular prevalent [when he played in the 1990s].
“There were times when I was told ‘go over there and do something for 15 minutes’.
“I found it hard to understand why we were wasting time because we couldn’t do much. But I planned out drills and, because of my love for football, it happened.”