Luke Steele is safe pair of hands waiting for phone call in January transfer window

FORMER Barnsley goalkeeper Luke Steele counts himself as one of the lucky ones.

Veteran goalkeeper Luke Steele. Picture: Simon Bellis/Sportimage
Veteran goalkeeper Luke Steele. Picture: Simon Bellis/Sportimage

He might be one of scores of players looking for a club this month in a January transfer window made problematic by the two issues which have dominated this country for the past year in the Covid-19 pandemic and Brexit, but he can afford to be choosy.

The 36-year-old free agent, who was catapulted to national prominence for his part in the Reds’ famous run to the semi-finals of the FA Cup back in 2008 – which saw them account for Liverpool and Chelsea – is counting his blessings and waiting for the opportunity that best suits him.

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Based back in his home city of Peterborough where he has business interests and a young family, Steele, who left Nottingham Forest last summer, has been happy to give a bit back at grassroots level – while keeping himself fit in readiness for when the phone does ring with that opportunity he cannot turn down.

Steele has trained with the likes of King’s Lynn to keep his fitness ticking over and spent a week at Oakwell at the start of winter, featuring in the first half of an Under-23s friendly.

The keeper, who played 227 times for the Reds, has also had a bit of fun turning out as a centre forward for sides in the Spalding Sunday League and Peterborough Saturday League and also had a spell in the non-league at Northern Premier League outfit Spalding – back in the ‘day job’ between the posts.

Steele, who spent time on trial at Sheffield United in 2018, is glad to not be starting out on his football journey, that is for sure.

He told The Yorkshire Post: “It is easy for me to say that Brexit or Covid is the reason I have not got a club.

“But it is really not. It is more to do with the fact that the wage cap in League One and League Two has been introduced. That is really making it difficult for players of a certain type to sign for clubs.

“I am absolutely fine and not worrying or stressed about it. But I do look at the younger players and it could be a really tough time for the lads who have not got a club or who are playing in the Conference North or South. League One or Two clubs have not got the budget to take extra players on and I cannot complain.

“I have had offers, but they have been too far away. I have been lucky to have offers. To be honest, I am 36 and it is my twentieth season.

“I do think the salary cap has been massively rushed and speaking to managers and chairman and agents, they have regretted the numbers which have been plucked out of the sky.

“I don’t think they (EFL) realised the costs of all the ‘bits and bobs’ in Leagues One and Two. I do think it (salary cap) will get increased soon.

“At the minute, If you have not been through an academy and have developed late as a player, you are going to find it hard to get those opportunities like you would as clubs don’t take those opportunities (now).”

The United Kingdom’s exit from the European Union has also made the prospects of British players heading to the continent for employment much less straightforward, due to the increased amount of paperwork requited in obtaining work permits.

Prior to this month, British nationals did not need a visa and had the freedom to live and work in EU countries and vice-versa, Now the criteria is much stricter.

As someone who will never forget his life-enhancing time in the Greek capital of Athens with Panathinakos – where he sampled one of the most fervent derbies in Europe against Olympiakos – Steele is well placed to speak about how playing on the continent can be such a special time in a professional’s career.

He added: “It would be a shame to see restrictions on that. It is such a life experience and not just football. As a young Englishman who had only lived here, being abroad was a great experience and hopefully they’ll sort that out.

“The derbies were great and playing in the Europa League was the pinnacle of it and that is what I went for. I played 20 games in Europe, which was always a dream of mine. It was golden to play at Ajax and PSV (Eindhoven) and some far-away places such as Moscow. I am so glad I did it.

“We played at Olympiakos and it is called the ‘Derby of the eternal enemies’ and the clubs will never like each other and it won’t go away.

“It was an extraordinary experience. I don’t think we saw a pedestrian or car on the way to their stadium as there were armoured vehicles protecting our coach all the way on the motorway and through the city. Then you can imagine what it was like getting in a hostile arena like theirs.”

Instead of being backed by some of the most partisan fans in European football, Steele has been more used to playing in front of the equivalent of ‘one man and his dog’ in his recent forays in football.

It has been good for the soul as he is quick to acknowledge.

“You can play football at any level and still enjoy it. You might see me at 50 hobbling around somewhere,” Steele quipped.

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