Poland: Jerzy Dudek

Former Ireland and Liverpool defender Mark Lawrenson believes Jerzy Dudek has proven himself a rare species of goalkeeper with all the attributes to prove the hit of Poland’s World Cup campaign.

Former Ireland and Liverpool defender Mark Lawrenson believes Jerzy Dudek has proven himself a rare species of goalkeeper with all the attributes to prove the hit of Poland’s World Cup campaign.

Dudek has stood out as a figure of composure since his arrival at Liverpool, and the Anfield club’s rise up the Premiership table owes a deal to his unerring consistency.

Plunged in for a debut against Aston Villa, Dudek was shell-shocked as Liverpool lost 3-1.

But he has been a rock since, keeping Chris Kirkland and Holland’s Sander Westerveld sidelined.

He is now one of the few names inked into the Reds first team.

And Lawrenson, these days a media pundit, compares the Pole favourably to any Liverpool goalkeeper of his day.

According to Lawrenon, who played with Bruce Grobbelaar and Ray Clemence, Dudek is a defender’s dream.

‘‘He’s not like anyone I ever played in front of,’’ Lawrenson said.

‘‘For the modern-day goalkeeper he’s very phlegmatic and I think he inspires people in front of him.

‘‘He’s been very good for Liverpool. His first game was at home to Villa when they lost and since then he’s not looked back. He’s been absolutely first class.’’

Liverpool’s goalkeeping has arguably been their weakness since the days of Zimbabwean Grobbelaar in his prime.

The likes of England goalkeeper David James and United States stopper Brad Friedel did at times look up to the job but consistency let both down.

‘‘I think Dudek’s the best they’ve had for a long time,’’ said Lawrenson, who won five league titles and two European Cups in seven seasons at Anfield from 1981-88.

‘‘You look at David James and he’s done well, but this fella’s better as he’s very consistent.’’

With Poland set for first-round matches against Portugal, South Korea and the United States, Lawrenson is sure Dudek can take his club form onto the biggest stage of all.

He added: ‘‘I like his style. He doesn’t scream and shout, and he’s so calm that defenders can’t help feeling comfortable in front of him.

‘‘He should do well for Poland. As well as a great shot stopper, he handles crosses well and doesn’t have an obvious flaw to his game.’’

By rights, Dudek should be shattered come next May. It has been a remarkable year for the 28-year-old, who did not belong to a top-flight Polish club until after his 22nd birthday.

Sokol Tychy provided him with a break and after just 15 games he was lured to Feyenoord.

At the Dutch club he was an Eredivisie ever-present for four successive years, and his international bow came in 1998 against Israel.

A year passed before his bow for the Rotterdammers, as Ed de Goey held on to the number one jersey before leaving for Chelsea.

When coaching Feyenoord, Leo Beenhakker described Dudek as ‘‘the best goalkeeper I’ve seen in 30 years’’.

Arsenal rated him so highly they were on the verge of shelling out €13.5million to take him to Highbury before plumping for England’s Richard Wright.

And Liverpool coach Gerard Houllier, recovering after his heart scare and subsequent by-pass operation, must reckon himself to have struck a great deal when he gave €7.7million to Feyenoord for the Rybnik-born miner’s son.

That move came on the deadline for Champions League registration, when Liverpool also swooped for Coventry’s Kirkland.

He has hardly been out of the limelight since, with the Reds stepping up their quest for honours in the Premiership and Champions League.

And while Poland should not win the World Cup, their last line of defence will prove as tough as any to crack.

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