Look to the future
As part of our Look to the Future series, Graeme Bailey caught up with England Under 21 star and Middlesbrough goalkeeper Jason Steele to talk about his rapid rise in the game.
Last Updated: 09/05/11 10:14am
Jason Steele, a 20-year-old shot-stopper, has been on a remarkable journey over the past 12 months which has seen him go from playing League Two football to being linked with a multi-million move to the Premier League.
Steele is another graduate of Boro's highly acclaimed academy and his big breakthrough came this year.
Having spent time on-loan at Northampton Town last season, Steele was handed his chance for Boro in their Carling Cup clash with Chesterfield and such was the impact he made, he has never looked back and gone on to become first choice at The Riverside.
Steele is quick to point out the benefits of going out on loan, a move he feels changed his career.
"Without a doubt," he explained. "It was around the end of February when I went, and it was one of the most important things that has happened to me since I have been playing football.
"I have to thank Northampton for giving me that chance and it made me grow up so much."
Steele explained how league football differs so much from playing in the youth and reserve ranks.
"From playing in the reserves where it is about development and not so much about results, you're suddenly playing with men who are playing for bonuses for their wives, children and families.
"It is a good situation to be in and I got took in by them, and it was a huge thing for me. It showed me what the real world is all about, you're playing for your livelihood."
He also explained that he chose to actually move away from the north of England in order to enhance his education.
"I chose to move away, there might have been somewhere up north I could have gone, but I wanted to see if I could cope with living away. I was there for three months and it made me mature.
"I think I came back a better person, more mature and I like to think it helped me get into the first team fold."
Steele has long-since been tipped as star of the future, having been involved with England since U16 level.
And the Boro youngster reveals how also being on the international stage has helped him develop further.
"Being with England really helped me, it gives you that little taste of what you can achieve," he continued.
"You get that week of school when you're 15 and you think 'I can be something if I do work hard'. You get that taste for it, you get treated like a proper footballer, and you feel like a footballer and it gives you that self motivation to think 'wait a minute, this is what I want to do'.
"I remember when that happened and I thought there is nothing going to stop me now."
Steele has already been tipped to make the step up to the full squad soon and has been likened to current England number one Joe Hart; a player he very much looks up to.
"There are a lot good keepers at the moment, Joe Hart is number one and could easily be number one for as long as he wants to be.
"He is the sort of person I need to model myself on and try and take little bits from him. I get a lot of comparisons to him and I would like to think I could take little bits and add them to my own game, as he is top-class."
Steele feels that English goalkeeping is in a very good place at the moment.
"There has been a lot of criticism about the state of goalkeeping, but there are some very good young keepers, Scott Loach, Frankie Fielding, Alex Smithies - those three alone are in their early 20s.
"I can learn from all these guys, I speak to them regularly and I know I can keep improving with work."
One of the areas that Steele feels he needs to improve is on his strength, as he admits playing first-team football has much different demands on the body.
"It is a lot different to when you first start, as you're playing once a week if that. It is a massive step up, but everyone makes sure you're ready when that comes," he adds, before admitting that natural ability is not enough to take you through.
"When you are at the that age coming into the Academy you rely on your natural ability, you have to keep brushing up on technique and technical issues, but now I'm working on making myself bigger and stronger and trying to get myself ready to play every Tuesday and Saturday, which an be a lot for a young player like myself."
Steele is also working on his mental toughness, which is another aspect of his game he has worked hard on since making his first-team debut.
"Throughout your life as a footballer you're going to have your ups and downs, especially as a goalkeeper," he said.
"When that happens it can be hard for people to understand that you can suffer from a lack of confidence."
The Newton Aycliffe-born star still admits that he finds it hard to believe how far he has come in the past 12 months.
"I was on the bench for the first game of the season and there was talk of me going out again on loan.
"And then all of a sudden I got a game in the Carling Cup and I got into the driving seat from there and I always felt I just needed that chance at Middlesbrough.
"I think it was just fate that the game was also on television and all the fans saw the match and what I could do. It was just luck and sometimes you just need that little bit of luck, but it has been surreal that I have now played over 30 games for my hometown club, it is massive.
"I still go out on a Saturday and think 'Jesus, this is surreal', but at the same time I feel I have earned that right. But, I know I cannot slack off, as otherwise I won't be playing."
Steele is proud of the fact he has added his name to a long list of players to have made the breakthrough with Boro.
"Middlesbrough have such a proud tradition of bringing through young players and it is coming to the fore now, you look at the Premier League there are a lot of players who have come through the youth system here.
"I think it shows the work that Dave Parnaby and the rest of the staff are putting in, and shows it can work."
Steele, who has already signed a new long-term deal with Boro, has been linked with a move away from the club, something he has seen happen to some of his predecessors with Ross Turnbull and Brad Jones joining Chelsea and Liverpool respectively in recent years.
"People are different, they have their own mind-sets, I wouldn't begrudge Ross or Brad what they have done. If you look at the size of clubs, not many people in the world would turn down Chelsea or Liverpool. That choice has never come up for me, and if it did that is a bridge you have to cross, but I am just happy improving and playing football."