Wojciech Szczesny is in the spotlight after a tumultuous start to the season and Elio Salerno reckons the Poland international’s form reflects what Juventus have become.
Prior to his arrival in the Italian capital during the summer of 2015, Polish keeper Wojciech Szczesny had gained a reputation for all the wrong reasons. Moving to Arsenal as a youngster, “Woj” had been identified as a potentially great stopper for the future, but his time in English football was to be defined by inconsistent performances and high profile errors.
His decision to sign for Roma and break away from the negativity surrounding him in the Premier League would prove to be a shrewd move, Szczesny’s two campaigns as the Giallorossi’s No. 1 was the refresh his career needed. The then 25-year-old would show a level of reliability never previously seen in his game, with him arguably outperforming all other keepers in Serie A during his short spell at the Stadio Olimpico.
Off the back of keeping 14 clean sheets in the Italian top-flight – a league-high in 2016-2017 – Szczesny scored a high profile transfer to then champions Juventus who were looking toward a potential replacement for the legendary Gianluigi Buffon. Initially playing a role as Buffon’s understudy, the Pole’s first term in Turin would see him play more than expected as a result of injuries to super Gigi.
If there were doubts that Szczesny could raise his level yet further by becoming the main man at one of Europe’s elite clubs, he would set about dispelling those by seamlessly replacing Buffon upon his first Juve exit. A nomination for the inaugural Yashin Trophy followed an impressive season in 2018-2019, with Szczesny going on to be named as Serie A goalkeeper of the year in 2019-2020.
“Tek” had become almost unrecognisable from the keeper we saw play in London, he was now one of Europe’s underrated players in his position. Juventus seemingly did the impossible in successfully replacing Buffon. Whilst the rest of the squad was falling away, GK was one of few positions Juve didn’t have concerns about.
However, over the last year, Szczesny has reverted back to the player we saw in his younger days. The odd mistake was, to begin with forgiven he had earned that right, but Juve’s once dependable No.1 is now crumbling on an increasingly regular basis. Despite the current season being in its infancy, Szczesny has already cost his team goals and points.
We can discuss the problems in front of him, the Bianconeri’s regression as a group but more specifically as a defensive unit. A back-line that once appeared impenetrable now offers chances for the opposition. Yes, Juventus are conceding more shots per game, so naturally, Szczesny will be under increased pressure and perhaps in part it is that he finds difficult to handle, but that cannot be an excuse for the basic errors he has made in recent months.
Boss Max Allegri must help his team rediscover their defensive solidity, he has to build that trust again between Szczesny and those players in front of him. That is problematic with an out of sorts keeper. Juve’s players will feel a sense of vulnerability hanging over them, the person protecting their goal can no longer be relied on, the psychological impact cannot be underestimated. The relationship is broken.
So what is the solution? Juventini will say it’s simple, remove Szczesny from the spotlight and allow the capable Mattia Perin to step in. That is easier said than done. What does it say to the squad if the returning Allegri drops a player when he has a difficult moment? Trust is pivotal between the coach and his men. La Vecchia Signora are in a period of uncertainty, a place they haven’t been for over a decade. If the team was playing well and winning games, dropping one out of form player is an easier process. There are a number of individuals that need to play their way into form, not have concerns around their place in the team, players don’t want to be constantly looking over their shoulders.
As fans, we are able to think clinically about these situations, but the reality is very different and the complexity of managing a group that lacks confidence whilst protecting those within it is a tricky task. The games are coming thick and fast, Szczesny has no time to dwell on his current plight and his manager is rightly backing him publicly.
But if the blunders continue, how long will it be before the usually unflappable Max Allegri loses his patience? If that time hasn’t already come, then it must be edging ever closer. Szczesny has become a reflection of his club, what was previously driven and focused has lost its way. Now they seem to have settled for what they have achieved, no longer looking to maintain the standards they have set in years gone by.
Juventus begin their Champions League campaign in Sweden tonight before welcoming Milan to the Allianz Stadium on Sunday. Plenty of opportunities for Szczesny to turn his fortunes around.