The 2020/21 season provided an array of successes for the Liverpool academy.
Amidst a successful transition to The AXA complex, a fruitful cup run and the bedazzlement of a number of exciting attacking players, the progress, growth and general shut-outing of Jakub Ojrzynski has understandably flown under the radar. Transitioning from U18 up to U23, the Polish teenager has gone quietly about his business showing a capable pair of gloves during the step up.
I spoke with Maciej Chorążyk, the chief scout of the Polish FA, to gain a greater insight into Jakub Ojrzyński and the success of Polish goalkeeping.
Affectionately known as ‘Kuba’, Jakub Ojrzyński, was signed from Legia Warsaw at the age of 16 during the Summer of 2019. Liverpool parted with a sum to the tune of £200,000 to secure Ojrzyński and his potential.
Gangly-limbed, excelling in the art of shot-stopping, it was not without competition that Liverpool confirmed the signing, beating Valencia, Juventus and familiar foes, Manchester United, to a signature. A blossoming reputation came as Kuba played beyond his own age group for Warsaw, frustrating U19 level strikers at the age of just 15.
Beginning his career with Korona Kielce, he would eventually move to Legia Warsaw, where the infrastructure of The Militarians would play a significant part in Kuba’s early development, details Chorążyk:
“Wojciech Szczęsny, Artur Boruc and Łukasz Fabiański came early to England. They all come from the same club, Legia Warsaw, where goalkeepers are trained by one of the greatest ever Polish goalkeeping coaches, Krzysztof Dowhań“
It would be an authoritative figure closer to home that would further aid Kuba’s formative development. Father, Leszek Ojrzyński, was a goalkeeper in Poland before going on to coach and manage a number of teams in the Ekstraklasa – the highest level of Polish football. While helping to prime Kuba with the appropriate training methods in his primitive years, still to this day the pair train together when the opportunity arises. Early hard-yards between father and son coupled with the drive to succeed paid off, as Kuba received the call for early representation of the Polish national team at U14 level, remaining a constant in the national set-up until U19 level.
The ink that blotted the pages of his contract was still fresh, as curiosity in the teenager grew when a surprise inclusion – and the youngest member at that – was added to Liverpool’s 2019 pre-season in the form of the fresh-faced goalkeeper. Despite not getting any minutes between the sticks, learning from the likes of Alisson and first team goalkeeper coach John Achterberg would be enriching none-the-less.
Klopp and co. liked what they had seen.
2019/20 was the focus of acclimation and adaptation for Jakub Ojrzyński. 11 league appearances and a further 3 in the UEFA Youth League, while only appearing to be a handful, provided a solid foundation for Kuba to build on as he dipped his gloves in the quicker, stronger, English football.
The 6ft 2″ goalkeeper still produced fine saves with regularity, impressing enough heading into the following Summer. So much so, that the Liverpool hierarchy would offer up a first professional contract at the age 17, with the club citing a ‘fine’ shot-stopping ability as a reason to do so.
A significant landmark for Kuba, that was certainly earned.
As greener pastures were promised, Ojrzyński banked even more minutes in the 2020/21 season; a season that although plagued by the pandemic, provided Kuba with footballing stability. Continuing to highlight his impressive shot-stopping ability, a promotion soon beckoned. A season beginning with U18 football, would end with U23 football. And a Premier League squad appearance. Notable performances included a 3-2 defeat to Manchester City, a score-line that ought to have been significantly worse but for a man-of-the-match goalkeeping performance.
Considering Liverpool’s vast network of goalkeepers, at times resembling a revolving door, it is impressive that Ojrzyński has manager to play more times than any other academy goalkeeper this season – a clear showing of faith in the clubs hierarchy.
THE POLISH GOALKEEPING SCHOOL
Polish goalkeepers have long since penned their part in Premier League folklore, with a number of Slavic shot-stoppers taking place between the sticks for various clubs since the Premier League’s inception. The eccentrics’ of Wojciech Szczęsny, the measured approach of Łukasz Fabiański or the heroics of Jerzy Dudek; the Polish goalkeeping production line is impressive.
It is not without reason that Polish goalkeepers are successful, not just in England, but in the whole of Europe.
“In Europe there is talk of the Polish goalkeeper school – and it makes sense” began Chorążyk .
“For years, Polish goalkeepers have been at the forefront of Europe. In my opinion, this is due to the individualistic approach to training as a goalkeeper. Polish coaches have their own training style, in which the systematic learning of the goalkeeping technique plays a very important role. The most important element is the personal approach and the large number of individual training sessions”
This differentiates the Polish methods from their European counterparts.
“In England, for example, little attention is paid to the systematic improvement of technology” Continued Chorazyk. “Goalkeepers have to defend in matches, and they do it, but overtime the player trained in the Polish system is ahead of his English counterpart through comprehensive training. Our goalkeepers have no shortcomings in any of the game elements and are ready to play in the seniors”
And Liverpool Football Club are at the front of the queue.
With Dudek’s tale of Istanbul etched into the memory of Liverpool fans for the foreseeable future, it is in recent years that the Merseysiders have strengthened their peculiar affiliation, as the club have sought after several Polish talents to bolster academy ranks. Kamil Grabara was snatched away from FC Ruch Chorzow in 2016, while Fabian Mrozek left FC Wroclaw in 2020, both of whom having represented Poland at various levels between the sticks.
Alluding to former stoppers, Chorążyk has high hopes for Kuba.
“Jerzy Dudek wrote a beautiful story in Liverpool. Kamil Grabara joined Liverpool as a 16-year-old and is now a very good goalkeeper. I believe that Jakub Ojrzyński will go even further” claimed Chorążyk, who knows Jakub better than most, working with him for the past three years.
“Everything you need – physical condition, great skills from training with his father Leszek, Kuba is a strong influence on the team. He is loud and self-confident. This is also the case at the training camps of the Polish national team.
Moreover, an important element is that Kuba is really connected with the club. He is a true Liverpool fan, and lives up to the club everyday“
With the club rightly receiving acclaim for a number of attacking talents, playing in a position where a showing of deficiency is unavoidable can oft lead to goalkeepers being overlooked. Jakub Ojrzyński has had an impressive season and deserves credit for his development that places his him on a an upward trajectory.
Liverpool are well placed for goalkeepers, with the hopes that Jakub Ojrzynski adds to the Polish goalkeeping lineage and the next graduate of the Polish goalkeeping school.
Written by Lewis Bower