30 June 2015

Szczęsny welcomes Čech to Arsenal...

LONDON COLNEY—Wojciech wasn't feeling quite himself. For years—almost his entire time at Arsenal, really—he'd come to rely on a certain sense of security, borne of knowing that he'd be the #1 goalkeeper. Yes, there'd been blips on the radar. Lehmann. Almunia. Mannone. Fabianski. Ospina. Through it all, though, he'd known. Whatever the setback, however many howlers, the position was his as long as he didn't let it slip through his fingers, much like a keeper might let an actual ball slip...it was then, mid-simile, when he came to grips with reality. Those other men, they were journeymen, stewards at best, called upon only when he grew weary of the pressure of possessing so much potential. This, though, was different. This Petr Čech has been and is still a rock on which one can build. With that in mind, Wojciech approached the man.

     "Hm? Oh, hello! I am Petr."
     "Yes, I know. I am Wojciech. I'm delighted to have a chance to learn from one of the best goalkeepers in the world!"
     "Ah. Yes. Thank you."
     "I posted that to facebook, by the way. Millions of people will see this. I think I have more than 2,434,184 likes."
     "Aha. That is good."
     "Yeah, well, so am I. I'm a pretty good keeper. I won the Golden Glove last year."
     "Um, so did I. It was for me the third time."
     "Really? Good for you. It must be easy when your entire squad parks the bus, am I right?" He realised that his own laughter was a bit too loud.
     "Well, yes, it is true that the defense deserves much of the credit. However, I—"
     "I mean, come on. Terry? Cahill? Azpilicueta and Ivanović? Those guys are beasts! Put me behind them and I'll keep clean sheets week after week after—"
     Čech raised his hand slowly but with the authority of a prophet. Instantly, Szczęsny was still, a sense of calm deeper than any he'd ever felt before settling into the deepest reaches of his soul. His smirk slackened; awe spread across his face like the sun rising over a pond. "It's not quite that simple," Čech intoned, "alone, yes, each of them is stalwart. However, even together, they need guidance in functioning as a unit. Each of them is distracted, their minds forever busied by innumerable tasks.
     "They need someone to see all and be all behind them, someone who draws his strength from a source deeper than speed or reflex, someone who knows the game."
     At this, Szczęsny recoiled as if he had been punched in the face.
     "It is not enough to make the occasional save. To be a keeper, one must become one with the ball and sense, if not know, where it is trying to go. It is not unlike the Golden Snitch of Quidditch. To catch it, one must understand that it wants to go home—it wants to find the back of the net. The question a keeper must always ask himself is this: 'which net will it find?' When a keeper can answer that for himself, then and only then can he call himself an actual keeper."
     Szczęsny scoffed. "What's the big deal? All you have to do is stand there and wait. If someone shoots, you try to block it. If you can't, it's like 'so what? Great shot.' If you can, everyone's all like 'awesome! Great save!' It's win-win, the way I see it. If they score, it's not down to me. If they don't, it's because of me."
     "To an extent, this is true. In many cases, a goal conceded is the fault of all eleven. However, the best keepers—a title I do not claim for myself—instruct, command, and demand of those in front of them that they deny their opponents a chance. At Chelsea, it is true that those in front of me were among the best in business. However, they functioned as a unit because I told them to."
     Szczęsny took a moment to take this in. "Wait," he exclaimed, "you mean that we can tell the defenders what to do?"
     "Whoa. All this time, I've been just standing between the sticks, you know, watching and waiting for a chance to make a highlight-reel save. Thomas and Per and Laurent or whoever would run around, and I would just wait for a chance to dive dramatic-like to save the day. You're telling me I can tell them what to do, as in 'stay in front of that guy' or 'don't touch Hazard in the box 'cuz he'll dive faster than the Greek economy'. Whoa. That's heavy."
     "I think you're ready."
     "Ready to transcend 'potential' and start delivering 'performance.'"