Thursday, December 22, 2011

The Wonderful Wojciech Szczesny

Every now and then, a player comes along that you take an instinctive liking to. It happens often enough with me. Sadly many of them do not quite turn up the way you have first envisaged. Some go on to become fine players, but not quite the way you thought. Perhaps they become good at other roles or positions. And then, on just the odd occassion, the player goes on to become everything you had imagined. And more.
As an Arsenal fan, I have seen some formidable folks in our goal. We had the magnificient David Seaman, followed by 'Mad Jens' Lehmann. And while when he was good, he was very, very good, he never gave me the same sense of security that Seaman did. After that we had Manuel Almunia for quite some time - a half decent keeper and a genuinely good guy, but one who never really convinced me fully. And in between we have had the impressive but erratic Polish keeper Lukas Fabianski spend some time under our bar - another huge talent, but one who has been a bit too error prone for my liking.
All this while, another young Pole, was creeping up the ranks at Arsenal and I started to hear about him on his loan spell at Brentford. A combination of injuries and bad form from others probably forced him into the first team a little early and boy has he made the most of it.
Goalkeepers are difficult to judge. There are all sorts out there - the brilliant shot stopper, but who might make "silly mistakes". The solid, but not spectactular type. Some are better with crosses and corners than others. There are those who are terrific when facing one on ones. Some are penalty specialists. But it is not just about stopping goals. It is about distribution of the ball, it is about organising your defence. There are so many intangibles at play.
It's hard to say, what was it about this guy , wonderfully and weirdly named Wojciech Szczesny (let's just call him Chesney), that struck me the most.  However as good as his technique and game is, it is his personality that shines through the most. More on that later.
I think Chesney took giant strides during his loan spell at Brentford. The Brentford manager Andy Scott described him saying: “It reached the stage where, when he let a goal in, we wondered how he hadn’t saved it".
He has had to come through adversities. In November 2008,  when, working with a heavy weight at the club's gym, he lost his balance and felt the bar crash down on to his forearms. He has come out through that and gotten stronger.
He has had some exceptional moments for us. I guess this penalty save against Antonio Di Natalie of Udinese itself was worth about 25 million pounds and stands out as his biggest moment.

Or take a look at this rather impressive performance for Poland vs Germany in an international.
He has had his horror moments. The Carling Cup final howler against Birmingham or that game at Old Trafford where he kept getting beaten from long distance by Rooney and co. There is plenty of room for him to improve, he is just 21 now. He has to improve his distribution, we will have to see how he deals with the really big, high pressure games and so on.
However, the more I see him, the more convinced I get, the more assured I feel. And trust me, having a goalkeeper that doesn't give you the jitters when the ball is lobbed into the penalty box is one of the best feelings for an Arsenal fan. For too long have we had our hearts in our mouth every time there was a set piece conceded.
But Chesney is a lot more than just a very good goal keeper. He is a personality, he is a character, he is a presence. Read this lovely report to get an insight into the type of guy he is. And the character that he is, it is actually not a surprise to see him do a Cryuff. Once here and again here either. These keepers will always be mad, I tell you.
All this is wonderful, but wait, there is a little more. Chesney is also a fan. A fan of Arsenal Football Club. You can clearly notice that in his interviews or his general banter on twitter.  Not many people go out of the way to sing with the fans. Check this out as he joins the away fans in singing We are by far the greatest team... Or this picture as he kisses our Messiah of a captain Robin van Persie's left boot after the winner against Everton. Incidents like this make me extremely emotional, but in a happy and proud sort of way, of course.

In a world full of rich, mercenary footballers throwing tantrums and talking bull shit, Chesney comes across as a refreshing change. He plays with a fierce competitive spirit, a confidence that belies his young age, but the way he comes across, both on and off the pitch, as a fan of the game and the club has endeared him even more to me.
I would like to think that there are a lot many Arsenal fans, who are absolutely smitten by this young lad. I would not exchange him for any other keeper in the world. Touch wood, he will stay with us for a long time and go on to be a club and country legend.
"He was a presence, on the field, in the game, in the media, in the mind." This was Gideon Haigh about Shane Warne. In twenty years time, this statement might just be fitting for Wojciech Szczesny.

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