After more than four years at Manchester United Tomasz Kuszczak – the Pole In Goal – has finally secured the number one spot in the side, albeit it by default with Edwin van der Sar injured and Ben Foster out of form. But the former West Bromwich Albion ‘keeper’s performances mean the place, for now at least, is on merit.
It has been a slow journey to the top for the Krosno Odrzańskie-born player, who began his career at Bundesliga outfit Hertha Berlin – just over the border from the town of his birth. But the Pole failed to make the grade at the Olympic Stadium despite remaining on the books for three seasons. Kuszczak even made his international debut in December 2003 before he had appeared as a professional for any club side.
Kuszczak’s time at West Brom, for whom he signed in the summer of 2004, offered the Pole a platform on which to display his undoubted, if inconsistent, talents. Some outstanding performances in the 2005-6 season for the Midlanders earn the 27-year-old a move to Old Trafford, initially on loan.
But prior to the start of this campaign Kuszczak had made just 17 Premier League appearances in three years for the club. In total the Pole has played less than 50 times for United, and fewer than 100 games over his career. It’s a significant experience gap for a player of his age. Something that the 6’3″ stopper is keen to address with the current run in the team.
“I am enjoying playing regularly. Then you can do something with your performance,” said Kuszczak who has kept three clean sheets in a run of six matches in the United side.
“Playing for Manchester United is fantastic. Even when I have had the hard times, when I did not play, that was always my ambition.
“I never started thinking the chance wouldn’t come for me. Now it is my time to play regularly and I want to do it for a long time. I have to play well and keep clean sheets. I have to make as few mistakes as I can.”
“It is difficult to keep clean sheets because the level of the Premier League is so high and we have to keep changing the defence around, It can be confusing but we don’t have enough time to gel – although they played well on Tuesday against Wolves.”
Having started the campaign as United’s third-choice goalkeeper, outstanding saves in away matches to West Ham United and Portsmouth have offered hope that Kuszczak might be a genuine contender for the long-term role as Edwin van der Sar’s successor.
However, few United fans would have predicted the success with which Kuszczak has staked his claim in recent weeks. The Pole’s poor decision-making and ability to give away penalties were a feature of the ‘keeper’s early performances for the club.
Indeed, Sir Alex Ferguson’s decision to hand Ben Foster the gloves at the start of this campaign was supported by most match-goers. Many felt – still do – that the Englishman has more natural talent than his European competitor.
While Kuszczak’s current performances merit a place in the side it seems inconceivable that he will keep the spot in the long-term. van der Sar – if genuinely match-fit – could return to the squad for United’s Premier League away fixture at Fulham this weekend.
As ever Kuszczak’s career may take another twist with Ferguson insisting that he will promote from within should van der Sar hang up his gloves in the summer. Many feel the Scot is pulling off another ruse, however, with German Manuel Neuer odds-on to replace the great Dutchman at Old Trafford.
Kuszczak will hope he has a few more games to prove the doubters wrong. It wouldn’t be the first time.