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01.12.2015, 21:20
Slawomir Szmal, the goalkeeping monument between Poland's posts
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EHF EURO KEY PLAYERS: At 37 years of age and one silver and two bronze medals from World Championships, Poland's Slawomir Szmal hopes for one more shot at gold come the EHF EURO
 

Slawomir Szmal, the goalkeeping monument between Poland's post

It can be said that Slawomir Szmal was destined to play handball. He even had no choice than to become an amazing goalkeeper and the pillar of national team.

His uncle, Andrzej Mientus, was a goalkeeper, too. He played in the Polish national team and won bronze at the World Championship 1982.

Szmal’s father and his mother played and coached handball respectively. In the course of time, it turned out that Szmal’s family wouldn’t be the same without handball. And handball wouldn’t be the same without Szmal.

Slawomir Szmal began his career at the local club Stal Zawadzkie. Once he had become professional, he played for several Polish clubs including legendary Hutnik Krakow, Warszawianka Warsaw and Wisla Plock.

Twice he was very close to become the Polish champions, but on both occasions he eventually had to settle for second position.

All credit to the goalkeeper

His national team career spiralled upwards when he moved to Germany in 2003 where he first played for Tus N-Lübbecke and then transferred to Rhein-Neckar Löwen after two seasons.

Step by step he strengthened his position in the national team, and in 2007 it was also courtesy of Szmal's skills between the posts that Poland won silver at the World Championship in Germany.

Two years later Poland again made the podium as bronze medallists at the World Championship in Croatia, and Szmal finished the year on an even higher note when he was awarded World Handball Player.

These were the times when the biggest talents of Polish handball created an incredible team based on friendship, trust and equal engagement of each player.

Everyone, who followed the Polish matches back then, will admit however that without Szmal they would have never gone so far.

“All the successes of the Polish national team come hugely to his credit,” says Talant Dujshebaev, head coach of Szmal's current club, Vive Tauron Kielce. “His title of the world's best player (in 2009) proves his quality anyway."

;

One Szmal performance that scores of fans still remember is the quarter-final against Russia at the World Championship 2007 when he saved no less than four penalties – and he has not lost this skill eight years later as he saved three in Kielce's 23:20 win against HC Vardar last weekend in the VELUX EHF Champions League.

“Kasa’s (Szmal's nickname in Poland) class is partly about this knowledge that in the matches that are not really important, he doesn’t need to defend perfectly,” explains the second coach of Polish national team, Jacek Bedzikowski.

“At the same time, in very hard matches he needs to give more than 100 per cent and he does it indeed. I don’t remember him letting the team down.”

It is impossible to remember after how many matches his teammates admitted that he deserves a monument.

The truth is that Szmal is able to play at his peak even if the field players do not.

Quintessence of being a goalkeeper

What is Slawomir Szmal’s key to success? Whomever you ask, the answer is hard, hard work.

“He is a training titan,” says Bedzikowski. “I didn’t have the pleasure to play with him in a team, but as a coach right now I can say that he is an example for the others. I think I never met anyone working so hard at trainings”.

He is seconded by Dujshebaev. “He works so hard, for me even too hard! Every coach would like to have such a player. Everyone, who has ever worked with him, knows that he is 100 per cent professional.”

What makes him so effective in goal., is the fact that he combines the best of all trades.

“There are two general types of goalkeepers,” says Bedzikowski. “Those who are not really tall and use their speed and these who make use of their physical size and position themselves really well.

“Kasa combines his speed with a good position in goal what is the quintessence of being a goalkeeper”.

The older, the better

Dujshebaev underlines: “Sławek is an amazing man, it’s great to work with him. He never tries to achieve something juts for himself. Sometimes he tries to win something for the others.”

Bedzikowski agrees and discloses: “Exactly. A team is a partnership and he is a representative of the other players. Sometimes he asks ‘Coach, do we need to train today?’ or ‘Could we do it this way?’.

Coach Biegler (head coach of the Polish national team) speaks with the players a lot and Kasa is always the first man to talk.”

“Players have a huge respect for Kasa. He has a proper charisma to reprimand somebody and even to pull him back. And he does it. Maybe not in public, but in a private conversation.”

Szmal has also a great influence on the younger goalkeeper in the Polish team, Piotr Wyszomirski.

The talented goalie, who plays for MOL-Pick Szeged, many times underlined the fact how honoured he is to be able to learn from Szmal.

“They are a fantastic goalkeepers duo. They like each other, they share a room together in when the national team meets. They are also similar in terms of their characters,” says Bedzikowski.

Wyszomirski will probably take over Szmal's first position in goal in the future. But right now there is no one that threatens his spot between the posts.

“He is like wine – the older he is, the better he gets,” says Bedzikowski.


TEXT: Magda Pluszewska
 
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