Dickie Felton

I write about music and football

“Difficulties create the character" is a quote Liverpool goalkeeper Loris Karius should pin-up in his bedroom.

For the troubled Liverpool number one, now seemingly number two, might wish to consume motivational words in a predecessor’s new book.

Karius is under fire following an error prone couple of weeks culminating in being dropped for Liverpool’s trip to Middlesbrough on Wednesday.

But the German shot-stopper should not despair.

For he comes from a long-line of Liverpool goalkeepers bruised into an Anfield baptism of fire and the critical glare of an all-powerful media.

Karius would be best-placed spending his time on the sidelines reading the autobiography of someone who has been there before.

For Jerzy Dudek has the hat, cap, scarf and badge from a similar rocky start to his Liverpool career.

And in his excellent tome “A Big Pole in Our Goal” Dudek talks at length about the pressures put on goalkeepers in the Premier League.

A pressure which, according to Dudek, is not replicated anywhere else.

The kid from Rybnik in southern Poland will always be remembered for his heroics in Istanbul and man of his match performance to win the League Cup in 2003. But his Anfield Odyssey was far from plain sailing.

Dudek got off to a bizarre start on his first day in the office when he discovered he wasn’t the only new boy.

Liverpool signed fellow keeper Chris Kirkland on the same day. And Kirkland cost more! 

Reflecting on the situation, Dudek writes that he was “concerned” even though he had “no idea who he (Kirkland) was.”

But the first few days at Liverpool were hard: “They were the worst days of my life. I felt really lonely. I was in a new place with a new language, which I couldn't speak. I lay on the hotel bed and wondered if I would ever make it at Liverpool.”

Despite an initially impressive start at Anfield following his September 2001 arrival, the Pole was prone to errors. And high profile ones at that. It’s not wise to gift goals to your arch rivals Manchester United (as Dudek did in December 2002).

But not only did Dudek survive early heartache, he went on to become an Anfield icon helping Liverpool win the Champions League in 2005.

In this book Dudek writes of a "schizophrenia" in England regarding how goalkeepers are viewed.

The media: “only think if the goalkeeper screwed up or not. Nobody thinks 'did he have a chance to save it?' Nobody notices that the keeper saved his team earlier with some crucial interventions when he has made a mistake."

The son of a miner, Dudek was born in communist Poland in 1973. The lad was destined to follow his father working deep in the darkness. But he excelled at football and goalkeeping in particular.

Some footballers have ‘humble beginnings’, Dudek’s were humble in the extreme. Tough high-rise tower blocks and an atmosphere of violence were the backdrop to his early years.

As a toddler he accidentally knocked boiling water over his chest and suffered third degree burns. It’s an incident that nearly kills him. And he still carries the scars today.

Poverty was the norm growing up. While playing for one of his first football teams Dudek goes on tour to Germany. He is amazed to see cans of Coke on sale and brings them home for a treat for his family.

Dudek qualified to be a miner, but instead of going to the pit he was allowed to sign for Polish third tier team Gornik Knurow.

The young Pole made do with makeshift gloves; attaching the surface of a table tennis bat for a better grip and drawing on Adidas logos.

The kid with the homemade goalie gloves, could never have imagined he'd become a European Cup winner.

Nor could he have imagined playing for Real Madrid in the same team as Cristiano Ronaldo, or being coached by the most influential bosses in the game such as Jose Mourinho and Rafa Benitez.

Dudek’s rags to riches story is a remarkable one. After making the grade in Polish football he moved to the Dutch league and eventually to Anfield.

There are some interesting insights into the managerial styles of Gerard Houllier, Rafa Benitez and of course Jose Mourinho.

But the main man in Dudek’s life is Pope John Paul II.

Dudek will always play second fiddle to the Pontiff in being the most famous ever Pole goalkeeper.

On the eve of the 2005 Champions League Final Dudek relaxes by reading the Holy Father’s book Remembrance and Identity.

But back to Dudek's tome, and the passages about Liverpool’s march to Champions League glory are fabulous for both the on-field drama and build-up off it.

Rafa puts Dudek forward to deliver the pre-match press conference ahead of the crucial quarter final away at Juventus. The manager asks Dudek to plant decoy seeds in the minds of the opposition:

"The Italians were inquisitive and we knew the questions would be asked so I went to the press conference and did exactly what Rafa wanted me to do. I talked rubbish!"

Despite the fact that the story of Istanbul is told time and time again, Dudek’s book is special as it’s told through the eyes of the main man that night.

I'm sure Steven Gerrard fans may disagree... 

But if anyone is to thank for that fifth European Cup win, it is the miner's son who stopped Shevchenko.

Full all the run-ins Dudek has with Rafa, there’s heap loads of respect for his former manager.

Between May 2005 and April 2007 Liverpool played Chelsea six times and only conceded a solitary goal. "This was down to Rafa's preparation" states Dudek bluntly.

But the keeper only makes 12 first team appearances in the two seasons after Istanbul while playing understudy to Pepe Reina.

Jerzy almost throws a punch at Rafa for seemingly hindering moves for him to leave the club. It's time to move on.

The sections on Dudek's international career may fail to illuminate British readers of this tome: the accounts are mostly of defeats, clapped-out planes, and bleak hotel rooms.

Before his 60th and final cap Dudek suffers a family tragedy when his father-in-law dies suddenly aged 62.

A year later Jerzy's own father dies aged 63. Both men were former miners.

It's a stark legacy of a life down the pit as Dudek points out:

"Some people in Poland are envious that miners retire sooner than other professions do, but they don't realise that miners also pass away sooner."

A life down the pit and an early death...

Puts goalkeeping errors into perspective doesn’t it?  

Jerzy Dudek – A Big Pole in Our Goal is Published by Trinity Sport Media. 

 

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