Arsenal fans. Not seeing the best of Łukasz Fabiański? There’s a good reason. Your club tried to fix it, but loyalty stopped them. Michal Zachodny reports from Poland.
If you met him on the street, you wouldn’t know he is the man that taught goalkeeping to Artur Boruc (Fiorentina), Łukasz Fabiański (Arsenal), Wojciech Kowalewski (Sibir), Jan Mucha (Everton), Wojciech Szczęsny (also Arsenal) and his father Maciej (former Polonia Warsaw), Arkadiusz Malarz (Larissa), Łukasz Załuska (Celtic) among many others. He is not that tall, barely looks like a goalkeeper, with a moustache that makes him seem more electrician than legend. Krzysztof Dowhań is the man that once turned down Arsene Wenger to teach young keepers at Legia Warsaw.
What is so special about this guy? Dowhań wasn’t even a good keeper in his playing years, reaching the lower leagues at his peak. He knew his worth and quickly ended the adventure, but lasted only a few months without football. He couldn’t live without throwing himself in the mud just to reach the ball and keep a clean sheet. Or rather to make others do so, as he became goalkeeper coach, which was without doubt the best decision he ever made.
His first boss, Rudolf Kapera at Polonia Warsaw once said about him – ‘Let’s be honest, he wasn’t born special. I never thought that he will make such a career in coaching’. Dowhań liked to learn and experiment. Keepers were simply stunned with some of his training sessions, always saying that there is nothing more that can surprise them with Dowhań. ‘I offer to my players’ only hard work. If they take it and have a talent, they can be successful one day. It’s mostly up to the player if he wants to become something more than an average keeper’ – says Dowhań, currently working for Legia.
‘He is not a conflict man and I think that it is his main strength. No keeper is easy going, with many of being bit mental but I never had any argument with Dowhań’ – said Wojciech Kowalewski also revealing that his career might have reached greater heights if he had trained longer under Dowhań’s tutelage.
Krzysztof Dowhań is very patient and calmly takes in his success – ‘The biggest compliment I’ve ever heard came from Maciej Szczęsny [father of Wojciech of Arsenal], who was 33-years old and said to me that he never thought he could learn something more. Until he trained with me.’
Last winter, when the annual Ekstraklasa awards were given out to the players, the special one went to Krzysztof Dowhań’s hands – from two of many goalkeepers that he worked with, Wojciech Kowalewski and Jan Mucha (currently playing for Everton). The latter, Dowhań’s latest success. He came to Legia but nobody was convinced he was any good, far from the international level he reached under Dowhań’s wings. Some started doubting that the Slovakian could be any good, but the coach said to be calm and wait for effects of his work. They came quickly and Legia soon had the best goalkeeper in the league. Mucha started to play for his national team and went to last World Cup as Slovakian number one. Mucha says about his former coach that he is priceless and would take him anywhere he plays, just to have the pleasure working with the best teacher he ever had.
The Fifty-four year old Dowhań has a say about every goalkeeper he put through his special training sessions. Artur Boruc is apparently very concentrated during games, plays well with both feet and has great technique. Łukasz Fabiański is very calm but makes great decisions and his reflex is second to none. With Tomasz Kuszczak he worked in U-21 national team and rates him highly, saying that the keeper is very brave, makes the best decisions every time he needs to. Yes, the mistakes of all three have been well documented, but it is up to their current club coaches not the one that made them play on the level that attracted Celtic, Arsenal and Manchester United.
About his recipe for success he says – ‘I try to be elastic. Once it was said that if a keeper can walk after a training session, he hadn’t worked properly. I don’t believe that, my training sessions are light, but not too much. Also, I remember my first few sessions – I had a special summary and every delay made me angry. I’m not like that anymore, I don’t make them so strict’. When asked about the future number one in the Legia goal, after Mucha went to Everton, he said that he will rise. Now he has two goalkeepers to train – Marian Antolović and Kostiantyn Machnovsky. Both are not at he level that fans and club expects, but if Dowhań says that they have potential, there is no worry, the results will come.
When Łukasz Fabiański moved from Legia to Arsenal, the fame about small man with a moustache followed the Pole all the way to London. First, his former keeper called him saying that the club is interested and then he picked up the phone and had Gerry Peyton on the line. The offer was to work with the Arsenal academy goalkeepers, with Wojciech Szczęsny still there and a chance to gain a promotion after a year or so. He refused saying that he can’t throw everything in Warsaw and just join Arsene Wenger’s crew. Money was not the issue here, he was just too dedicated to the Legia job.
He is the man that earned about five million euros for Legia – in making Fabiański, Boruc and Szczęsny worth that much. He is the man that we can thank each time we hear praise for ‘Polish school of goalkeepers’ in the big world. In Poland, we may not have great defenders, midfielders and strikers but at least we can make a whole eleven of great keepers, with most of them coming from Krzysztof Dowhań’s school.
Interviews came from articles written for ‘Przegląd Sportowy’, ‘FutbolNet’ and ‘Goalkeeper.pl’.
If you would like to read more from Michal, please visit his excellent website; Polish Football Scout.