Eric Steele is one of football’s great characters and his association with Derby County runs deep.
The former goalkeeper was with the Rams between 1984 and 1987 and was part of the Division Three and Division Two promotion-winning sides under Arthur Cox.
Steele, perhaps best known on a national scale for his role as Manchester United’s goalkeeping coach under Sir Alex Ferguson, held a similar position at Derby between 1997-2001 and 2013-2015.
He also served a number of other elite clubs in his specialist role and now conducts his work with the Football Association’s goalkeepers.
Now 65, Steele has worked with some of the best and most decorated goalkeepers in the game such as David De Gea, Edwin van der Sar and Peter Schmeichel to name just three.
But there are plenty of others too; for example English custodians Jack Butland, Lee Grant, Joe Hart and Ben Foster, who have all plied their trade in the Premier League at some stage of their careers.
Another player who worked with Steele, and developed not only his game but a special relationship with the charismatic proud Georgie, was Mart Poom.
The Estonian goalkeeper made 166 appearances for the club between March 1997 and January 2003 after signing from Portsmouth.
Signed by Jim Smith, Poom made his debut in Derby’s sensational 3-2 win at Manchester United in April 1997, which is famously remembered for Paulo Wanchope’s stunning individual goal.
At 6ft 4ins, Poom was an imposing figure between the posts and his tremendous agility and ability to command his penalty area made him a popular figure with supporters.
He was named as the Rams’ Player of the Year in 1999/2000 and less than a year after joining Sunderland, in September 2003, he scored an injury-time equaliser for the Black Cats in a 1-1 draw at Pride Park Stadium with an unstoppable header after going up for a corner.
Poom later went on to play for Arsenal and Watford before hanging up his gloves in 2009, with an astonishing 120 caps to his name for his country.
Steele says Poom’s work ethic, as well as his undoubted ability, was essential in what he achieved during his career - even if he didn’t know when to stop.
Speaking to RamsTV Meets, Steele said: “Mart knew he had ability and was, without a doubt, a self-made goalkeeper.
“He was dedicated from the moment he got up in the morning until he went to bed at night; his problem was he didn’t know when to stop.
“I think we had to fine him for carrying on at the gym doing weights a few times. We’d have a session in the morning, another in the afternoon and then when we told him to relax he’d go to the gym! Honestly, he didn’t know when to stop.
“What a contribution he made to Derby County’s history, though. He joined for a small fee from Portsmouth and he was part of a great era as the club moved to a new stadium and became established in the Premier League.
“He was tall, brave and he worked so hard. Crucially, as well, he would perform. He scored a goal against Derby for Sunderland after he left the club, which we all know about, and left the pitch to a standing ovation from the supporters. It’s incredible and a measure of the man.”
He added: “If you look at a goalkeeper that has got to where they are with hard work, alongside their ability, Mart is the best example.
“When people ask me who was the best I worked with, I can’t name one. They were all great in their own ways; Lee Camp, Lee Grant and Mart Poom at Derby for example and then others such as Peter Schmeichel, David De Gea, Edwin Van Der Sar and Joe Hart from my time elsewhere.”
Poom, after retiring from playing, remains in football after moving into the same profession as Steele.
Clearly, Poom’s 21-year-old son Markus has inherited his qualities and the Derby-born goalkeeper has already been capped at full international level by Estonia.
Steele said: “I am proud to have worked with Mart and he’s now doing some goalkeeping coaching, so the tables have turned a bit.
“He calls me the ‘master coach’ and his son, Markus, is a goalkeeper too and has been capped by Estonia – so he’s following in his dad’s footsteps.”
Away from Derby, Steele is well known for his role in bringing David De Gea to Manchester United.
Steele extensively scouted the now 29-year-old prior to his arrival from Atletico Madrid in 2011 as United sought a replacement for Dutch legend, and former international team-mate of Derby boss Phillip Cocu, Edwin van der Sar.
The Spain international had to endure a baptism of fire in the early stages of his time at Old Trafford, but Steele had no doubts he would be a long-term success.
De Gea is adored at United and has made 394 appearances in all competitions for the Red Devils.
He is regarded by many as one of the best goalkeepers in the world for his impressive performances.
He said: “David De Gea is a world class goalkeeper. When we brought him to Manchester United, I think he hated me for the first six months!
“He had to learn the English language, learn to drive and change his diet; he had to adapt to the lifestyle. He had a tough and difficult start, but we knew what we were buying in to.
“We had to build up his frame and do all the pre-sessions and extra stuff to get him to where he is now. It’s a testament that the homework the club did on him. He was the natural choice to replace Edwin van der Sar.
“Sir Alex Ferguson put his faith in my judgement; we had to take a chance in the sense of investing in youth because previously experienced goalkeepers had been signed. Since David joined, he’s kicked on so much – for club and country - and has been recognised for his performances.”
He added: “The fans love him like supporters at clubs do for the strikers and the headline makers. No-one is prouder than me for what he has done.”
Want to hear more from Eric Steele on his life in football and time at Derby County? Watch the full RamsTV Meets in the videos embedded in this article.