So what is De Gea like away from the pitch?
Earlier in the 2020/21 season, David De Dea marked his 30th birthday, and his 10th season in Manchester, with a wide-ranging interview reflecting on the 20-year-old David’s interests, and how he’s changed (or not!) over the years…
In the big Inside United exclusive, David starts with one of his big passions outside of football, and explains that while heavy rock and metal are his first love, he has eclectic tastes now he’s a bit older…
“I used to go on holiday to Alicante on the Mediterranean coast in Spain. I was always outside hanging out with my friends and I started hearing some guys that were listening to music, which was Spanish rock. I started going out looking for that type of music, I started getting really into it. I would have been 14 or 15 then. Just like now, I was always on the look-out for new bands. I remember the first band I liked were called Saratoga and that’s how it started.
“I was also really into Avenged Sevenfold but now I listen to all types of music. Not just rock. Rock is my favourite but I listen to a bit of everything, to be honest. From old-school Spanish music to Spanish rap and hip-hop. I love Spanish rock, Spanish pop, too. Pretty much everything, to be fair. I always just stick on my playlist – there’s all sorts of music on there – and listen to whatever comes on.“I’ve been fortunate to go to a few gigs, I’ve also been with some of the staff here who like their rock. The kit men, the press officer and some other team-mates that are into it as well. It’s not always easy to make it happen but I’ve taken a few along with me. I was lucky to get to see Slipknot and then Avenged Sevenfold, who I actually got to meet in person, and as I’d listened to them since I was a kid it was a dream come true to get to meet them and spend some time with them backstage. And the concert itself was amazing!
“I miss it, but right now it’s about being careful. Not just in terms of yourself but for the sake of others who you could end up passing the virus on to. But obviously you really miss being able to go to concerts and everything else, theatres, all those things people like doing, so it’s tough.
(IU: Is it true you play the drums?)
“It’s true. I play a bit because my girlfriend bought me a drum kit a few years ago and I started playing, messing about on the drums a bit. I’m getting there, I’m getting better. It’s tricky and I’m gradually improving. I think if you take it up as a kid it’s easier but when you’re a bit older... I pick up the odd rhythm but I enjoy it. It’s good fun.”
The Spaniard on the value of friendship, and how as well as making many new mates in his time at United, he still holds close his first group of friends from his earliest days.“For me, first and foremost, friends are one of the most important things in my life. I see them almost as family. I love them dearly and they haven’t just been my friends since I was 21, I’ve known them since I was five years old. I have the same group of friends now. I went to primary school with them, we were in the same class, spent many years together.
“Then it’s true that you make more friends, you meet new people over the years but my real group of friends, the ones who’ve been there throughout, are those I made when I was five and they are still my friends today. We’ve been friends all our lives, we go on holidays together. They really are like brothers to me.
“I have made new friends in Manchester too, especially team-mates here. Ultimately I spend lot of time with them and you end up becoming friends, too. I think I find it pretty easy to get on with everyone. I get on with all of the guys and obviously with Juan in particular, as we’ve been together for many years. We’re both Spanish, we met back when we were playing for Spain Under-21s and we’ve been together for a good number of years so we’ve got a great relationship.
“There are people here inside the club that I class as friends; the kit-men, physios, we’re like a family here, the press guy is a good friend of mine as well. We’ve got a good relationship. And I love the people that work here at the club. Whenever I come in here and I see them, they brighten up my day. There are four or five people at this club who I consider to be those types of people who you see, they smile at you and brighten up your day. They really are important for me and the club as well because they have devoted their lives to working for this club.
“You look at the club from the outside and it’s undoubtedly one of the biggest in the world but then when you’re here every day, you spend a lot of time here at Carrington, we travel a lot together and, as I’ve said, for me, the kit-men, physios, masseurs, press team, are a crucial part of this team and this club. The chefs as well! I forgot to mention them. We’re always pestering them, requesting new things and driving them mad but they are really good guys. They are top guys and to be honest it’s like a little family we have here.
(IU: Who are the people close to you who have helped you on your way to where you are now?)
“There have been a lot. Lots of people helped but, overall, it would be my parents. I think they are the most significant ones. My father, he was a goalkeeper as well and from a young age we always trained a lot at home. He was always looking out for me and then I’ve obviously had friends, family members, goalkeeping coaches who have helped me a great deal, too. And in life you get to meet people who appreciate you, love you and want to help you.”
We ask David whether he thinks there is much of a difference between his personality when he first arrived at United and how he sees himself now, and what he’s learned about life in between.
“I’m still the same person I am today but I’m much more mature now. When I arrived I was just a kid so, as you’d imagine, I was unsure of lots of things. I was coming to massive club, it was a different language, a different culture, everything was different. I’ve matured a great deal as a person for sure, and I’ve grown a lot as a player.
“I think you learn from your mistakes, you start to mature. Life throws up difficult situations and of course you learn from them, from the bad times especially. I think that’s life, isn’t it? I’m the same person but with more experience, I’ve gone through more things and I’m much more experienced in everything.“I’ve learnt lots of things. You learn, particularly that times can be tough, you can have difficult periods especially in this world. There are lots of people who will slate you, you’ll get it from all sides but it’s about believing in yourself, having confidence in what you can do to keep on going and give 100 per cent in every training session, every game, and know that life goes on and you have to show up each day to improve and be happy, which is the most important thing.
“I’m truly grateful for all these years that I’ve been here, and what can I say? It’s been incredible! It’s wonderful to be here and to be honest I feel right at home in Manchester.”
One of the big challenges in moving from Spain to England is adapting to the change in lifestyle. So how did David find that in 2011?“I think, in Spain, you go outside more, you spend more time out on the streets with your friends and family. You head out for a drink, for some tapas. There’s more life out on the streets. I suppose the weather helps a lot in allowing you to do that. Here in Manchester I really love staying at home, to be honest. I spend quite a lot of time at home. I’ve got my PlayStation, my films, I can have a read or whatever. I can relax. Especially now with the virus; if I spent a lot of time at home previously, now it’s double what it was.
“I enjoy gaming a lot. From a really young age I’ve loved video games and it’s one of my hobbies, my passions. Honestly, I’ll sit in front of the TV to play and the hours just fly by. You don’t think about anything, I’m just playing and I disconnect a little from the world and all of this, which is sometimes good for you to just think about enjoying yourself and having fun with your friends. I play along with my friends so I really like doing it.
“But occasionally I’ll go out for dinner. Not now, but when you were allowed to. I’d go out for dinner or lunch, the odd walk, but I don’t do a great deal here. I’m someone who likes to spend time at home.
“I’ve kept the same eating times as in Spain. I have my dinner at the Spanish time and have a merienda [snack], which people don’t tend to do here. The same as in Spain.”
Talking of cultural differences, one of the classics is the difference in food. We ask David all about grub…“To be honest, it was a big change from Spanish food to the food here. But you get used to it in the same way you get used to the weather, which is different. You kind of get used to everything. What would I have chosen from the menu when I first moved to England? I don’t know. I would have probably ordered a bit of everything. There are also good restaurants here, good food here but to be honest, for me, nothing comes close to Spanish food.
“I have to say I’m someone who orders the same thing. I don’t like to be that adventurous and try many new things. I know what I like and it’s one of my flaws that I don’t like trying new things, or if it doesn’t look good, if it doesn’t look appetising, I won’t try it.
“I don’t like it when they serve strange things and mix this and that. Sometimes my girlfriend will say, ‘Come on, try this!’ and I’m like, ‘No, no way!’ But that’s the way it is. I don’t like trying new things. She loves to try new food and I’ll go along because I know she likes it, but I always order the simplest dish.
“But as for things here in Manchester, there are some great restaurants. I couldn’t tell you about anything typical from here, but you can eat well and there are some great restaurants that serve really good food.
“I’m just as bad a cook now as I was when I first came to England. I just don’t cook. I’m rubbish. It’s always ended badly. I’ve never really made a big effort with it either, but I’m rubbish. Cooking isn’t my strong point.
“I don’t think there are many decent chefs among my team-mates, but I’d say Juan could rustle something up for you. But there isn’t anybody that I know who’s a decent cook. Victor is perhaps decent, but there aren’t many others.
“I’ve always been pretty slim. I hardly put on any weight. But we footballers try to look after ourselves, eat as healthily as possible. But sometimes we also like things that aren’t that healthy like having a burger or the odd pastry you’re fond of or whatever. Just like anyone else. We’re normal people as well and we like eating pizzas and all the rest of it but we try to look after ourselves as much as we can.”
We’ve talked about music and touched on gaming and chilling at home, but we want to know what other pastimes and interests David has…
“I’ve always liked a lot of sports in general. I played tennis a lot as a kid and I really enjoyed it. I used to have lessons. All sorts, I also played a lot of basketball at school. I think ultimately it was always about sports. I was a bit hyperactive and I always liked playing sports with my friends so mostly it would have been sports.“Now we have to be careful because if you got injured from doing some other activity you’d have really messed up. We have to take good care of ourselves. On the odd occasion, maybe in summer, I’ll play tennis or padel, but without overdoing it because you need to be careful.
“Table tennis, padel and tennis, I’m pretty good, I can hold my own, that’s about it but I’m not top-level. Padel is really popular now in Spain. And people have great fun, you play doubles, it’s a really dynamic game and easy to learn and play and it’s great fun.”(IU: Tell us one secret talent you’re really good at, apart from football and drumming, that nobody knows about – it can be anything…)
“I don’t know. I’d need to have a good think about that. To be honest, I was born to be a goalkeeper. It’s what I’m best at and there’s not really anything else that I do as well as that.”
How David has come to know and love Manchester, having first set eyes on the place as a wide-eyed 20-year-old – and his favourite ‘escapes’ in the city…
“I went on the tour to the US [meeting up with his new team-mates for the first time in the USA in summer 2011] and then came here to Manchester and I remember that there were times when it was tough because of the language, the weather, I was very young and very shy. I was coming here where there were top-level players, it was a different language and a different league. It was difficult but bit by bit I got used to everything and I always believed in myself and still do.“I started exploring Manchester bit by bit. You go out when your friends are here or with your girlfriend or your family, you go out for a walk or to places that people have recommended and you gradually start to see more of the city.
“One place we often go – or we used to go a lot– was to the Escape Rooms. We like going to the Escape Rooms round here and then I’m a big fan of coffee, so perhaps to a nice café bar or to go out for a walk. To be honest, people are very respectful in this country and it’s a really good place to live. You can have a really quiet life. So, I go out for a coffee, to an Escape Room and obviously go out somewhere to eat.
“It’s been many years. I’ve spent a lot of my life here and of course when it comes to the Mancunian accent, obviously I understand people from here more than I would an American, you know what I mean? So, I understand the accent here much better than those from other places.
“There are some accents that are difficult [to understand] but in the end your ear gets used to it and I understand people from here better and perhaps someone with a clearer accent from somewhere else would be trickier for me.”
David explains how although his own matchday routines have stayed the same, the dressing room feels a bit different to him now as an experienced player of 30, as opposed to being a youngster…
“My pre-match preparations have not changed, I’ve always been very relaxed. But I think we all have our things, our superstitions before games each person has their own ones but for me it’s just about being relaxed. I have my little things but it’s like everyone else who has their own superstitions.
“The dressing room, I think, has changed. When I arrived there were lots of older players with great experience, players who had won lots of league titles and other silverware, the Champions League – really experienced players, who were older than those that are here now. Now the dressing room is much younger. There’s less experience.
“Obviously it’s changed. Back then, it was almost a bit more serious, with more veterans in there, and now it’s a bit more youthful. There’s this mix of young and some of us more senior players but, I’m not sure how to explain it, it’s more cheerful, perhaps we’re closer as a dressing room and to be honest there’s a great atmosphere in there.”
We ask David what his proudest moment on the pitch in his long United career is, and he also points to his bond with the fans and times he has captained the club as sources of pride…“Lifting our last Premier League trophy would be top. It was amazing for me. There have been lots of good times but I think that’s the most special.
“Right from day one, the fans have been right behind me. It’s amazing how much love they’ve shown me since arriving at the club and obviously I miss them a great deal at Old Trafford and away from home. Having them there obviously helps you a lot and at the moment we have to play without fans, but there’s no doubt that we have some of the best fans in world.
“I arrived at a huge club like Manchester United and my aim overall was to play games and to leave my mark on the club and obviously to win silverware, to win big things, which is what everyone at this club wants and what this club deserves, but more than anything it was to play and play lots of games for this club, which is what I enjoy doing most – and to win trophies.
“I’ve been here for many years, played many games and I’ve gained lots of experience here at the club. Now seeing players here that are so young, it’s different to when I arrived. It was the other way around back then.
“It always fills you with pride when you get the chance to captain this club but whether I’m captain or not, I always try to help the team in any way I can by putting in 100 per cent in training, being an example to the young players and always being ready, which is important, for the manager when he makes his decision and to help the team in whatever way I can.”
David on playing for Spain…
“It’s another responsibility you have. When the international break comes around you have a responsibility to play for your country at the top level. They are international fixtures, you’re competing for your national team and your country and of course there’s more pressure. Whether you’re playing here for a big club or for your national team there’s always that pressure. But obviously you enjoy it at the same time. You feel pride in being able to play for your country and playing for Spain is wonderful. I been fortunate for many years to keep making the squad and I’m delighted to have done so.”
What would the David of today say to the 20-year-old David who was on the plane flying off to start a new career at Manchester United?
“I’d tell him to prepare himself for what’s coming! To be ready for the good times but also the tough, hard times. To be mentally strong, which is key, and enjoy it and believe in yourself like I believed in myself back then and more than anything, it would be that. To prepare himself for what’s coming.(IU: is there part of you that would like to be that young again and do it all again?)
“No, the years have gone by. There have been good times and bad times but I’m doing well now, I’m very happy. I’m really content with everything I have and all that I have achieved, and I’m looking forward to the future, which will hopefully bring many more years. Being at a club like this and at this level for so many years isn’t easy, so I’m proud of that – and bring on some more!”THE FUTURE
Now he has turned 30 – still not that old for a goalkeeper, with many playing years head – we ask David what ambitions he still holds…
“Well, the objectives are the same as when I arrived. The ones I mentioned before: to play as many games as I can for this club, as it’s always wonderful to wear this badge on my chest, and the aim is to win big things. Obviously, there are some wonderful objectives and we have to go for them, try to win a Premier League, to win a Champions League and go back to being a team that wins things. And to play lots of games so that in future years when people look back, they’ll remember that Spanish goalkeeper who was at the club for many years.”