When Tomasz Kuszczak signed for Manchester United in 2006, everyone in Poland thought that, finally, we have a keeper in the Premier League that will fill Jerzy Dudek’s boots after his successful spell at Liverpool a few years back. And his debut was as impressive as the desperate block that got him a “Save of the Season” award during his WBA days – playing against Arsenal at Old Trafford, he wasn’t given much time to settle in United’s gloves when they conceded an early penalty but he kept Gilberto Silva’s effort out. He was praised after his first game by United fans and at the time Kuszczak’s ambition to become the future number one in the Red Devils’ goal didn’t look as bleak as it does nowadays.
Now the issue about him is different, as was his last game for Manchester United. At Ewood Park last season, when the pressure was on them to get the result at the very end of the campaign, Tomasz Kuszczak did not perform as good as in his first game. To be fair, he was awful. He made a mess of a few easy kicks, he looked very nervous and nowhere near Edwin van der Sar’s class. The draw was enough at the time but the impression that he was not the man United needed when the Dutch legend retired stuck. After five seasons at Old Trafford, it was the time for him to move and look for every possibility to play, spend time on the pitch rather than in the dugout. Just over sixty games for United and one unfulfilled ambition later, Tomasz Kuszczak was not regarded as a top keeper by Sir Alex Ferguson anymore.
But it’s not about him being a good or bad goalkeeper. Ferguson has made worse signings in that position, Old Trafford still cringes at memories of some pathetic performances from Massimo Taibi or Mark Bosnich, and although there are theories that he has a bad eye for a goalkeeper, Tomasz Kuszczak cannot be in the same category as those mentioned before. At least it’s not questioned in Poland, as fans here are instead asking themselves how long could he last with only promises from his manager that one day, maybe, he will be given a proper chance in goal. How could he, given that he already spent a really long time on the bench at Hertha Berlin?
He had more than just a belief that he had enough to make it, to make fans quickly forget about Van der Sar. Despite the fact that his position was never strong, he was full of the passion for the club, the fans, the players and, most of all, the manager. He fitted at Old Trafford. He had the ambition, belief and attitude that United are famous for. You can still see it now, when his time there is frankly gone and the only time on the pitch he spends is for the reserve team, counting on a move in the next two weeks. In his latest column for the Polish edition of FourFourTwo magazine, he writes about not only his belief that Manchester United will be too strong for everybody else this season and that Javier Hernandez will be a star, Tomasz Kuszczak is simply convinced of both.
That’s why I can’t understand United fans that complain about him, rant at his mistakes, remembering only what was bad during his time at Old Trafford. As loyal and passionate servant as he was, still is - not even once complaining about his position, rather relishing the chance he was promised to be given by Ferguson – he should be shown respect at the moment he will leave the club he felt so much a part of.
He isn’t as good a goalkeeper as Van der Sar was and we will never know if he could be if he hadn’t wasted most of his last few seasons on the bench. He isn’t even Poland’s best goalkeeper, even though there is a tough competition to beat, given how many talented shot-stoppers came from our country. He has a character, definitely, also knows his job and nobody, even his worst enemies, can say that every single game out of his sixty-one appearances in United’s goal were as bad as the one at Ewood Park in May.
People in Poland somewhat rightfully compare him to Jerzy Dudek. Both were at greatest clubs, although only as a back-up. Dudek played even lesser number of games during his time at Real Madrid than Kuszczak did in his best season at Manchester United. Both had their ambition questioned, whether it is right for as talented keepers as them to only warm the bench and count on first-choice goalie’s injury or suspension. But it’s not the point.
They were both at fantastic clubs, had the chance to train with the greatest players of the times, and were a valuable part of the squad. The only difference between those two is that Dudek left to a standing ovation during his last game for Real, while players made a guard of honour on the touch line when he was subbed. A touching move, quite different to the boos Tomasz Kuszczak heard and critique he faced from quite a large part of United’s faithful after that Blackburn game.
Michał Zachodny is a freelance football writer and the editor of polishscout.blogspot.com, an intriguing look at the colourful world of Polish football.