Lukasz Fabianski reaps the rewards of patience after tough start in England
There was no lack of sincerity on Arsène Wenger’s part when, six months after Lukasz Fabianski left Arsenal for Swansea, he lamented the goalkeeper’s departure. Wenger had genuinely not wanted him to go but Fabianski knew there was no choice. He had been an exemplary squad player for seven years but his career had hardly got started: at 29 he had played 32 Premier League games and even if goalkeepers can count on enhanced longevity the symbolism of entering his thirties as a perennial deputy would be deeply unwelcome.
“I’ve had a rough start, in all honesty, when I came to this league,” says Fabianski, who can smile about it now. He is 37 and it says plenty that in an evolving West Ham side David Moyes still views him firmly as first choice. “I’ve had many ups and downs, especially Arsenal, but once I found the right way to do it I could perform to the best of my abilities. And with age … I’m not saying it’s easier to play the game but it does help you.”
Fabianski has always been calm, measured, not especially demonstrative: those characteristics tend to be reassuring in a reliable veteran but less convincing in a more mistake-prone younger player.
Chances at Arsenal after arriving from Legia Warsaw were so sporadic that errors, such as his high-profile mistakes at Wigan and Blackburn in 2009-10, took on added significance. The nickname “Flappyhandski” followed him around unfairly for a time. The spotlight could be unsparing even though it had been impossible for him to establish any rhythm.
“It was tough,” he says. “But it would be tougher if that had happened nowadays. At that time, especially, social media wasn’t that big. But it was still very tough for me. What helped me was that I always believed in myself and I’ve had people who believed in me as well.
“I focused purely on work and making sure that, even though I’ve been crossed by many people, I really had faith in myself – and people had faith in me – that I can be a goalkeeper that can play at this level.”
That is beyond dispute now. He hopes to show it againtoday when West Ham visit Manchester United; it will be his 297th top-flight appearance since leaving north London, Moyes having established a compromise with Alphonse Areola playing in the cup competitions.
Old Trafford holds no fear and West Ham, who have won three and drawn one of their past five games after a sluggish start, will move within three points of their hosts with a victory. The innate composure of their No 1 will come in handy again, as it did in those rocky early weeks.
“I have never been a nervy guy,” he says. “Being calm helps if you don’t start well as a team. Once you start being nervous or try to be a little bit more outspoken, then people start to think something is different or wrong. It won’t be helping the situation. So being calm, especially in the difficult times, is a better solution.”
Still, it has not always been easy to block out external noise. “I’m not going to lie, it was a process,” he says. “It took me a while but that came as well with playing regularly. At the start, when I played my first game for example, I probably would have been a little more distracted by all the surroundings.”
West Ham are a far more polished outfit now than the one Fabianski joined in 2018 but the present stage of their development, which demands as a minimum that European football becomes commonplace, has not been straightforward. The £51.5m arrival of Lucas Paquetá, who remains absent with a collarbone injury, raised expectations and Fabianski thinks patience will pay off.
“Some of [the new players] signed when the season already started so they didn’t have a proper pre-season,” he says. “It always takes time to adjust. Once we had a bit more time together, it started to click a bit better, so hopefully that will be the direction we have.”
A first league win at United since 2007 would, he acknowledges, be a boost to morale, perhaps the kind of result that crystallises the promise West Ham are beginning to deliver. “Confidence is a funny thing, you have to stay at the right level with it,” Fabianski says.
He should know. The lows did not consume him and the highs, in a career that has peaked around the time many are setting their retirement plans, have never been accompanied by bold proclamations.
“We all have to go through this,” he says of the tribulations facing many younger keepers. “Even though it’s hard, it’s good for the future.”
Fabianski is living proof that patience, along with a healthy appreciation of when to spread one’s wings, can pay off richly.