After conceding nine goals in two games Liverpool’s back-up goalkeeper Jerzy Dudek was feeling understandably downhearted. 18 months after being the hero of Istanbul, his status as Anfield legend had taken a severe bashing.
There was no doubting he was rusty before Liverpool went into this double-header. He started and kept a clean sheet against Championship side Birmingham in the Carling Cup in November. In December he in the fairly meaningless defeat to Galatasaray in the final Champions League group game, conceding three goals. He managed to get sent off in a mini-derby, although that was harsh to a certain extent. The ban meant he missed out on appearing in Liverpool’s opening League Cup fixture against Reading.
He’s not always chosen for reserve matches, but he’s not the only goalkeeper in England in that situation. Calls for top-flight clubs to be allowed to field “B” teams in the lower leagues would probably help Dudek in that respect. Scott Carson has spent the season out on loan to get experience of first-team football at Charlton, David Martin gets picked regularly for the reserves but the reserve games are limited enough as it is, without having to try and cater for two goalkeepers.
Dudek says that Tuesday’s six goals were the most he remembers ever conceding in one game in his professional career: “I'm devastated. I've never had a game like that before. Almost every shot went in. Maybe when I was very, very young I let in six goals but I can't remember letting in so many goals in professional football.”
Dudek was in the shop window for the cup games. His contract is up in the summer and any renewal offered wouldn’t be on the lucrative terms of the current one. From the start of this month he was able to discuss terms with clubs who wanted to sign him on a Bosman at the end of the season, but those two performances must have scared a few interested parties off. Did he feel he’d blown his chance? “I never really looked at these matches as a big chance for me,” he said, “I knew I would be playing in these competitions. The boss told me. I just wanted to take my opportunity and build some confidence, but it is difficult.”
He said his poor performances were down to the lack of first-team action: “The last time I had played at Anfield until Saturday was in February against Arsenal when we won 1-0 in the Premiership. After seven months, or more than that, you have to play another game against a good side against Arsenal.” He has appeared twice this season, both away, but if he hadn’t been suspended he’d have got a run out at home in that third-round tie against Reading. If he’d kept his cool in the mini-derby he’d have played in that match.
Despite what some reports tried to say, he certainly wasn’t blaming Rafa Benítez directly for his rustiness. Regardless of who’s to blame though Dudek does feel that matches are the only way to build up confidence: “For a goalkeeper you can use experience, but you can't build confidence in training. It's very, very difficult. This is strange because we never concede goals at Anfield and then in two games we concede nine. This is strange for me, as well, because I don't play regularly and I was hoping to get something out of the games. Every player needs to be playing regularly. You can't build confidence and the good feeling in the training.”
A note to the BBC website – Jerzy didn’t “tell The S*n” all of this. Liverpool players don’t talk to The Sun, as the BBC well know. The S*n is boycotted by Liverpool supporters and the club do not allow players to speak to that “newspaper”. That’s because of the lies the paper published about Hillsborough in 1989. The editor who printed those lies, and who still feels it was perfectly acceptable to do so, is now working for the BBC. Your decision to employ him was the drive behind the protest at Anfield on Saturday that your website chose not to acknowledge. I wouldn’t be surprised to hear calls for a boycott of the BBC if you don’t start taking more care of how you treat Liverpool Football Club and the issue of Hillsborough.
Now that Liverpool have signed another goalkeeper as cover for Reina on loan until the end of the season Dudek is resigned to leaving: “I don't expect anything now. The manager had already bought a goalkeeper after the Champions League final and the situation was clear for me. It's difficult for a goalkeeper like me to be second goalkeeper and to wait a couple of months for your chance. I don't need this experience and to sit on the bench and watch the games. Privately I am really happy, but for the football player it is very difficult when you are not playing the games. If you play one game each two months it is really, really difficult to show your quality.”
Dudek was a hero in Istanbul, but he knew that when Reina arrived he would no longer be first choice. He chose to stay on and wait for a chance, but Reina has kept his place. Dudek surely can’t complain about having to spend that time on the bench, he’s been well paid to act as back-up for Reina and knew only serious injury or very, very poor performances fro Reina would give him his place back as first choice. His wife had a baby over Christmas and no doubt one of his considerations for staying at Anfield would be how settled he felt in the area. He could easily have moved in the summer of 2005 after he’d become the legend that helped bring us Number Five, but he chose to stay. As a result he missed out on a place in Poland’s World Cup squad, but again that was his choice.
Dudek’s not sounding like a player who plans to leave in this transfer window though, which is perhaps a good thing: “Let's take it like a cold shower. Now we have to play and be as good as we can in the Premiership and the Champions League.” Most Reds would prefer to remember him for that night in Turkey on May 25th 2005, and time should help us to forget this past few days.