The halfway mark of the Remember the Name Series sees us pay homage to the only goalkeeper to have made our list, one Jerzy Dudek
Jerzy Dudek was signed by Gerard Houllier in August 2001 from Dutch side Feyernood for just under £5million. The Polish stopper had played every game of every season for the last four years for the Dutch giants and had become the first foreign player to win the Golden Shoe Award – awarded to the player of the Season. Jerzy was linked with a move to fellow Premier League side Arsenal, but chose a move to Anfield instead, and would make an instant mark on the side.
He immediately replaced Sander Westerveld as Houllier’s number 1 and made his debut on the 9th of August 2001. His first season with Liverpool was a good one for him as he helped the club end the season second, behind Arsenal and with a personal tally if 27 clean sheets in 49 appearances. His performances did not go unnoticed as Dudek was nominated alongside legends Oliver Kahn and Gianluigi Buffon for the coveted Uefa Goalkeeper of the Year award.
He was a shadow of himself in the league the following season, but proved the old adage that ‘form is temporary, class is permanent’ when he put in a Man of the Match performance against fierce rivals Manchester United in the 2003 League Cup Final to help Liverpool claim the trophy.
From then on, the ‘Big Pole in Goal’ would battle for the first team spot with English keeper Chris Kirkland but would prove to be a vital component in the side that pushed forward to that famous night in Istanbul in 2005. In front of a packed stadium in Turkey, Jerzy was beaten three times in the first 45, but came out a new man in the second half. While the team gave everything at the other end of the pitch to try and pull it back, Dudek was on hand to ensure that no further damage was done and pulled off an unreal double-save from Andriy Shevchenko to ensure the team was still in it. The double save was later voted as being the greatest Champions League moment of all time in a poll conducted by Uefa.With Liverpool pulling off a remarkable comeback, the haunting prospect of penalties loomed and a hero was needed.
Up stepped Jerzy Dudek.
Taking back the years to the days of Bruce Grobelaar, Dudek did his rendition of the ‘wobbly legs’ in a bid to put the Milan penalty takers off. And it worked, as the penalty stopping specialist saved efforts from Andrea Pirlo and Andriy Shevchenko – in the process leading Liverpool to the greatest victory of all time. His efforts in Istanbul saw him nominated for the Goalkeeper of the Year award once more.
The following season Liverpool signed current ‘keeper Pepe’ Reina which subsequently pushed Dudek into the number 2 slot. He remained at the club for two more seasons, only making another 12 appearances before moving on a free to Spanish giants Real Madrid.
A Great Man
His greatest strengths were not his ability to pull of remarkable reflex saves, or his ability to read a passage of play long before it happened. In fact, as good as he was on the field, his greatest strengths came off it.
His work ethic in practice was praised by player and manager alike at Anfield, even when he was no longer the number 1 between the sticks. The perfect professional
Chris Kirkland who while competing with Dudek was quoted as saying “What you see is what you get with Jerzy though. He’s a great man and a brilliant professional.”
This attitude followed him to Madrid, where despite never making a major impact on the field, he obviously made one off it. In his final game at the Bernabeu he was substituted in the 77th minute and walked off through a guard of honor. A fitting ending to the career of a true legend.
With five titles and nine final appearances for Liverpool, there is no doubt that Jerzy Dudek is, and will be remembered fondly for a long time