09 November 2014

Szczęsny and Fabiański conspire ahead of the match...

SWANSEA, South Wales—it was a rainy, dreary day in this coastal town, the kind of day that ached of rheumatism and rickets with a yellow fog that rubs its back upon the window panes and lingers upon the pools that stand in drains. It was the kind of day that saw the horizon fade into nothingness, where one could not determine where the sea ended and the sky began; all was but a greying mist. It was againts this tableau that two Poles, one perhaps grizzled and the other callow, met in a streetside cafe to strategize and conpsire. Small teacups of wódka were repeatedly drained and discreetly refilled throughout the late evening and, as the sun set, the conversation took on a sotto voce tenor.

     The seasoned veteran peered over the edge of his cup to take in the sight of the lanky youth who approached. For a moment, his eyes narrowed, but, once he lowered the cup, a warm smile spread over his face.
     "Wojciaszek! My friend! Please, have a seat!"
     "Thank you. It is good to see you and even better to see you doing so well."
     "Please, Woj. Flattery, it will get you nowhere. Have a drink with me and we'll talk, like old times."
     Szczęsny grinned a bit sheepishly as he pulled up a chair. "Big match tomorrow."
     Fabiański squinted just a bit as he sized up his compatriot but did not speak.
     "It looks like you have settled in, no?"
     At this, Fabiański bridled inwardly but restrained himself. Instead of speaking, he sipped from his vodka.
     Finally, Fabiański looked Szczęsny square in the face. "Yes?" One might detect the lightest trace of an edge to it, almost as if resentment simmered beneath the surface.
     "How do you do it? How did you do it?" These questions, by contrast, carried a pleading tone.
     Fabiański's eyebrow raised ever so slightly. "Do what?"
     "The saves. How do you...how do you know..." Szczęsny looked down into his own hands as if the answer to his questions lay there.
     "Ah. You mean the penalties. Woj, you yourself have made many saves yourself. Liverpool—twice, no? Aston Villa before that. It is not for nothing that you make these saves, so why do you ask me?"
     Szczęsny looked at Fabiański. "I don't know. I...I can't seem to put it together somehow. Sometimes, I feel so strong inside that I make headers outside the box. Some other times, I don't know if I should charge out or should I stay home. Against Anderlecht, I—"
     Fabiański waved his hand dismissively. "Don't talk to me of Anderlecht. It is your teammates, your midfielders, who failed, not you. Never is it you." Fabiański leaned in and peered deeply into Szczęsny's eyes. "Where was Ramsey on these goals? Flamini or Cazorla? Oxlade-Chamberlain? You are the last man, Woj. Ten others must fail before you do. Always it is this way with Arsenal, always. It offers you and I glory but also much blame. I play for Arsenal in the FA Cup, and I must turn away shot after shot because there are seven players attacking, only three defending."
     "But you made such saves to win that cup. How did you—"
     Again, Fabiański waved his hand as if shooing away a mosquito. "Focus. You must ignore all of the distractions. None of your energies should go past the current moment. No thoughts must you have of 'I will be famous if I save this' or 'they will know I am great'. It is just you and the ball. The ball, it wants you to make the save."
     "The penalties, though. It was almost like you knew—"
     "I didn't know. There is no knowing. There is only believing and focusing. You? You have this, this shimmy, as if the shooter wants to watch you dance when only he wants to shoot the ball. Ask yourself this: do you do this to make the save? To actually make the play? Or do you do this to create appearance of doing something important?"
     Fabiański shrugged and sipped deeply from his cup. "That is answer enough. There is what we do to show and what we do to prove. Too much with you, always, it was to show. This is for us the paradox: the less we are noticed, the better we are."
     At this, Szczęsny gaped, slack-jawed.
     "If you make the save, yes, this is good. But before the save it is made, the defenders must allow the shot. Before they can allow the shot, the keeper must allow the defenders to wander, to day-dream. We are not just between the sticks, Woj. We must always be telling the defenders where to stand, whom to mark, where to move. Always with you, the problem has been this. You are very good at making the save. At these other things, telling and making the defense serve you, not so much."
     Szczęsny continued to stare.
     "It is like the iceberg, no? They only will see the smallest bit of what we do. They will never see the other part, the biggest part, of what we do, the organizing of the defense that prevents the shot, the positioning of ourself that makes the fantastic save look ordinary. This always for you was the temptation, you think it is the fantastic that defines you and makes you famous." Fabiański paused to sip his vodka. "It is not so much in the spectacular that we define ourselves. It is in the ordinary moments that no one will notice."
     "But you made such saves in the FA Cup! How can you say such things now?"
     "Because of the FA Cup. I did not make good saves against Hull, so what value were the saves against Wigan? Hull beat me twice because I was maybe too confident—as are you always. I left Arsenal to go to Swansea, and some they said that I was never good enough for Arsenal. Maybe they are right, maybe not. I know this: I have a chance now to focus on winning games, not performing tricks. It is perhaps less fancy, but it gives for me a chance."
     "What do you mean, 'tricks'? What are these?"
     "The highlight. The fancy play."
     "But isn't that the best part, how they will remember us?"
     "They won't remember you for the fancy plays, Woj. They will remember you for the trophies you win." At that, Fabiański finished his drink, set his cup down, and rose. "I'll see you on the pitch tomorrow, Woj. Remember these words, for it took me time to understand them." He strode away, leaving Szczęsny gazing into his own hands, on the verge of grasping with them a new, deeper understanding...

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