Euro 2012 Player Spot: Group A: Poland: Wojciech Szczesny
With 84 days to go for the opening kick off of Euro 2012, Poland enter a territory of uncertainty and expectation that generally accompanies a host nation. While co hosting the Euros along with the Ukraine is a new achievement for both Poland and Uefa in extending the Henri Delaunay trophy’s reach into the far eastern borders of Europe, matching the success of hosting a satisfactory tournament with a similar performance on the pitch is a whole new ball game as far as the two hosts are concerned. As all eyes will be on Warsaw’s National Stadium when Poland kick off the tournament against 2004 champions Greece on eighth of June, Franciszek Smuda’s team might just have to rely on some of the country’s exceptional young talents to match or surpass high expectations of the Polish public.
One such individual to guide Poland through to something historic is Arsenal‘s young goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny. The twenty one year old’s natural leadership qualities and stable presence between the sticks make him one of the players to watch come this summer. Very much the number one keeper of the Polish national team, Szczesny is tipped to be the next big thing after the iconic 1970 Polish goalkeeper Jan Tomaszewski. In the current Polish team set up, football pundits have criticized head coach Smuda of relying too much on individuals rather than developing a solid team that can match Europe’s best, yet if there is one man who can take the burden of a whole nation single-handedly, is the Arsenal keeper who is probably the revelation at the Emirates this season since the days of David Seaman.
Praised by the great Oliver Kahn immediately after an international friendly last September where the six feet five inches tall former Legia Warsaw player pulled off as many as nine fantastic saves to help his side draw Germany 2-2, Szczesny’s off the pitch conduct speaks volumes of his professional qualities and his natural ability to boost the morale of a team. Robin Van Persie is undoubtedly the saviour of Arsenal with his exploits in front of the goal but what about the contribution of Arsenal’s Polish international goalkeeper who at the start of the season was not sure whether he would be the number one keeper at N5 given the uncertainty that was hanging over the North London side’s goalkeeping options! Even in the 8-2 mauling at the hands of Manchester United earlier this season, Szczesny was the one who stood firm in the eye of a dark storm that engulfed Arsene Wenger’s side at Old Trafford. His countless heroics in front of goal saved the Gunners from further humiliation and as the season grinds to a halt Arsenal’s fourth position is all down to two men alone, captain Van Persie and keeper Szczesny. Even the Dutch maestro had to admit after a game against Liverpool earlier this month that the Polish keeper saved Arsenal from the blushes with some top class saves throughout the season.
In a league where Manchester City‘s Joe Hart is the undisputed number one keeper, Wojciech Szczesny is not far behind in terms of skills and presence. In fact what separates the Pole from the rest is his ability to talk his defence out of a rough patch. Defenders like when their keepers talk and establish their presence as last man defence and the twenty one year old certainly is up to that mark and with a manager in the form of Arsene Wenger to guide him, this kid has a huge future in front of him both at the club and at international level.
Let us not ignore the fact that this boy is sometimes erratic in front of the goal and the Carling Cup final mistake against Birmingham City last season was a low point in the keeper’s short career but the new life that he has brought in this Arsenal team over the course of the season has the potential to rub off into the national team when Poland clash against Greece come June. The Czechs and the Russians might just as well be warned.
The giant Pole’s vision of the game belies his tender age and according to Polish football expert Michal Zachodny, ” The (Poland) team’s strength lies in its leaders: Jakub Blaszczykowski, Robert Lewandowski and Lukasz Piszczek, who are shining at Borussia Dortmund, and Arsenal’s goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny.”
Certainly a leader at the age of 21.
Built and groomed on the optimistic nature of his club manager Arsene Wenger, Szczesny has the tendency to see light at the end of the tunnel however long it may be. He is a fighter and is never shy to take on opponents both on the field and off the pitch. After the 5-2 mauling of fierce local rivals Tottenham, the Pole claimed that he hated Spurs thus cementing his loyalty for the red half of North London. His comments are generally backed by solid performances on the pitch and this makes him a legend in the making.
Euro 2012 is probably the stage for many a player to make a name but for Wojciech Szczesny it is all about his country and how well he establishes himself as Poland’s numero uno in terms of his leadership qualities. With nine caps till date, the Warsaw born player is destined to be one of Poland’s greatest sports personalities in the modern era.