With the start of Euro 2012 just over a week away, Goal.com International's Poland expert Ryan Hubbard profiles Arsenal and White Eagles keeper Wojciech Szczesny
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Over the years, Poland have been renowned for developing men to stand between the sticks, and it is a tradition that still carries on through to today. Arguably the most well-known Polish shot stopper in England, especially to the older generation, is Jan Tomaszewski; the man Brian Clough infamously labelled "a clown" before he proceeded to deny the Three Lions a spot at World Cup 1974 almost single-handedly.
In more recent years, Jerzy Dudek and Artur Boruc will be remembered for their time minding the nets at Liverpool and Celtic respectively; and while Lukasz Fabianski and Tomasz Kuszczak are both constantly overlooked at club level, they are held in high regard in their homeland. But when in May 2009 a 19-year old Polish keeper by the name of Wojciech Szczesny appeared on the Arsenal bench for a league game against Stoke City, few could have predicted the speed of his ascent in becoming both his club's, and the national team's No.1.
Wojciech moved to England at the age of just 16, having spent a year at the Legia Warsaw academy - regarded as the best in Poland; but after working his way to the fringes of the Gunners' reserve side in late 2008, an accident while lifting weights during training caused the 6ft 5in Pole to fracture both of his forearms. While such an injury would be enough to destroy the confidence of many, Szczęsny's quick recovery and eagerness to return to playing meant that he found himself on the fringes of the first-team squad before the season was over.
After spending most of the 2009-10 season on loan at League One side Brentford, Szczesny returned to the Emirates eager to break into the first team; and after injuries to both Fabianski and Manuel Almunia, he finally got his chance in December against Manchester United. After impressing in the 1-0 defeat, and again the following week against West Ham, Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger confirmed that the 19-year old would remain as his number one.
"The talent was always there but he is maturing quickly. I like that he is a good communicator," Wenger told reporters. He later added: "Overall he has the basic talent to be a top-class keeper. How far he goes will depend on how much he wants to improve."
Poland coach Franciszek Smuda also took note of Szczesny's notable composure and agility; and in early 2011, he included the keeper in his starting line-up for a friendly game against Norway - adding to a substitute appearance against Canada 14 months earlier.
|"Overall he has the basic talent to be a top-class keeper. How far he goes will depend on how much he wants to improve"
- Arsene Wenger
Since then, the Warsaw-born shot-stopper has been a permanent fixture in both the Arsenal and Poland set-ups; not missing a league game for his club side during the 2011-12 season, as well as eclipsing his father Maciej's tally of seven national team caps and drawing many plaudits along the way.
Now 22, Wojciech heads towards Euro 2012 as one of his country's stand-out performers. A recent clean sheet against Portugal in Warsaw drew significant praise in the media, as did an outstanding performance in a 2-2 tie with Germany - one that Szczesny describes as "probably the best performance in my career".
However, due to the fact that Poland haven't needed to qualify for this summer's tournament, Szczesny still has yet to make his competitive debut for the Biale-Orly; but as he claims, it won't make the slightest difference.
"It would matter if it was club football but when you are with the national team it doesn't really matter whether you play a friendly game or a competitive game," Wojciech told Arsenal's official website.
"Playing for the national team is the best feeling in the world, it doesn't get any better."Follow Ryan Hubbard on