Former Arsenal goalkeeper Wojciech Szczęsny has today opened up on his career to date in a brilliant interview with the Independent.
Szczesny, a 27-year-old Polish international, arrived at Arsenal from Legia Warsaw in 2006, spending three years with the club’s youth setup before making the transition into the first-team in 2009.
A loan spell with Brentford for the 2009-10 season saw the talented Pole showcase his immense shot-stopping abilities, before his return to the Emirates saw Szczesny establish himself as the club’s first-choice shot-stopper in 2011.
However, while his unquestionable ability was often on show for the North Londoners, so too was his rash decision-making, with wonderful one-handed fingertip saves too often followed by indecision from set pieces or giving away needless penalties.
Having been in and out of Arsene Wenger’s side during the seasons that followed, Szczesny was sent out on loan to Serie A side AS Roma two years ago, where the Pole proceeded to put all of his goalkeeping gifts together to establish himself as one of the best goalkeepers in Europe.
His stellar showings in the Italian capital have since seen the 31-time capped international bought permanently by giants Juventus, where he is now viewed as the natural heir to the great Gianluigi Buffon.
Speaking in an interview with the Independent today, Szczesny has opened up on why he left Arsenal, life in Italy, and much more…
‘When I went there (to Roma), my only aim was to get back to Arsenal and play for them again.’
‘Once I knew that couldn’t happen and I had this opportunity to join Juventus… it was tough. Accepting that my time with Arsenal was over was difficult because I never imagined leaving. I supported them as a kid and I got to play for the club of my dreams, but life goes on. It was the right thing for me and both clubs and, while one side of me found it difficult to say it was over, the other said lets just get it done.’
When questioned on the coaching differences between England and Italy, the Pole was typically honest in his response:
‘I think in general, the coaches in Italy are much more tactical, that’s just how the league works. Whether it was [Luciano] Spalletti at Roma or Max Allegri here, the preparation for the game is different to what I was used to in England. You work on the shape of the team for a particular match all week. At Arsenal you’d just prepare physically for it but here you watch film analysing a specific opponent before the game and afterwards we’ll watch again to see what worked and what didn’t.’
‘I enjoyed working with some great coaches at Arsenal, Roma and here, but the goalkeeping school in Italy is very different, it’s very technical and pays more attention to the details. It’s really made a difference for me because I started playing at a very young age with Arsenal and as you play you gain experience and that’s how you grow. But, honestly, I couldn’t say from a technical standpoint that I improved in any way from when I became first-choice at Arsenal until the day I left for Roma.’
‘However, in the two-and-a-half years since I came to Italy, I’ve improved massively which is thanks to the coaches and the way they work. It’s not about improving when you play, it’s every day in training you have to work on every aspect of your game and that’s something I’ve really enjoyed.’
Szczesny was then quizzed on the rumours of him being caught smoking whilst at Arsenal:
‘I never got caught. I admitted to it when I was asked if it was me in London but the second one was bulls***. At Arsenal I did it and held my hands up but never at Roma.’
He also singled out one of his new Juventus teammates for special praise:
‘I’ve played with Theirry Henry, Cesc Fabregas and Mesut Ozil. That meant picking the ball out of the net from some very good players in training, but Paulo Dybala is a special talent, he could become the best player in the world.’
On his best friends in football:
‘Jack [Wilshere] has been my closest friend for years, but really it’s the goalkeepers I get on with best,” he says. “Bogdan Labont was interesting at Roma because he was very experienced and we spent a lot of time about everything, not just football. It’s the same here, I can learn from chatting with Gigi [Buffon] but also from [third choice goalkeeper] Carlo Pinsoglio, he has experience of the lower leagues and it’s not just those at the highest level playing in Champions League finals that can teach you something. The struggle of playing down the divisions – like I did at Brentford – also helps, it can be just as valuable.’
Finally, on playing alongside and learning from the legendary Gianluigi Buffon:
‘I never imagined I’d get a chance to even play against him, I mean, I was a 15-year-old kid when I watched him win the World Cup and it was unreal to now find myself as his team-mate,” Szczęsny says, shifting in his seat. “It’s like playing with Francesco Totti at Roma, they’re players from a previous generation that I admired growing up and now I get to train with them every day.’
‘What makes it better is I get to work with him now because replacing Buffon is not easy. You can never be better than him, so now I have a year to be with him and learn from him, to gain knowledge from him and there’s a million goalkeepers who’d love to have that experience. Speaking with him and understanding what makes him great is humbling for me because the level he’s at at almost 40 years old is ridiculous.’
‘Seeing him up close, I knew he was good, but I didn’t know he was this good. Seeing him in training, seeing his personality in the dressing room, the leadership that he shows, the respect he gets from his team-mates, the fans, everywhere around the world, I’ve never seen anything like it.’
Check out the full interview here.