Three game-winning performances by Jerzy Dudek
Former Liverpool goalkeeper Jerzy Dudek will forever remain a hero on Merseyside. The Polish international may not have been the best keeper in the league, but he was undoubtedly someone who shone in some of Liverpool’s biggest successes in the early 2000s.
In a career spanning over two decades, Dudek is widely celebrated for his heroics in that night in Istanbul. Although prone to errors, he has enjoyed a storied career ended with a guard of honour at the Santiago Bernabeu – few can say they have had a better send-off.
One can argue that the player has at times been overshadowed by more glamourous players. One example was where his crucial contribution to Feyenoord Rotterdam’s Eredivisie victory was overshadowed by Ruud van Nistelrooy’s goalscoring exploits.
The Polish keeper made the move to Merseyside in 2001 after becoming the first foreigner to win the Dutch Golden Shoe. Dudek was unveiled alongside another keeper Chris Kirkland. However, he went on to replace the erratic Sander Westerveld as Gerard Houllier’s first choice in goal.
He vindicated the French manager’s decision by being nominated for the UEFA Goalkeeper of the Year award alongside Oliver Kahn and Gianluigi Buffon. An incredible achievement considering he was playing in the Polish third division around seven seasons before that.
Dudek would go on to both infuriate and impress in a career that spanned six seasons at Anfield. He went on to make 178 appearances and kept 78 clean sheets. The Polish keeper would also go on to win three major honours in his time on Merseyside – Two of which he played a key role in.
He was replaced later on by the impressive Pepe Reina and went on to retire at Real Madrid. Given the excellence of Reina, it is easy to forget the contributions that Dudek made to our club.
As Dudek turned 47 on March 23, let’s take a look at three decisive performances by the former Liverpool number one.
1. Against Manchester United (League Cup Final – 2003)
One of Dudek’s finest performances in a Red shirt. Facing off against a star-studded United squad led upfront by his former teammate Ruud Van Nistelrooy, the Liverpool keeper was a dam keeping a deluge at bay.
He time and again prevented United from scoring, denying Paul Scholes and David Beckham. However, it was Van Nistelrooy who came in for special attention. The Dutchman could have had a hat-trick on the night if not for Dudek.
He time and again got a hand to the United No.10 and ensured that he endured a frustrating night. Dudek looked unbeatable and showcased the entire world what he could do on his day. The match was decided by goals from Steven Gerrard and Micheal Owen. It was Dudek’s performance, however, that stopped the Red Devils from outscoring us on the night.
2. Against Chelsea (UEFA Champions League Semifinals 2005 -Second Leg)
A big performance on a big night. Jose Mourinho’s dominant league leaders arrived at Anfield after a 0-0 draw at Stamford Bridge in the first leg. It wasn’t as spectacular as the other two entries on the list.
However, it needs a mention given the importance of the fixture. The Polish international was on hand to collect any loose ball in the box and also made a fine save off a Frank Lampard free-kick in the second half.
Dudek made the save look easier than it seemed and maintaining a clean sheet on the night laid the foundations for him to be the hero at Istanbul.
3. Against AC Milan (UEFA Champions League Final – 2005)
It is not often that a goalkeeper’s best performance of his career comes in a match where he concedes three goals. However, this case is an exception. It was a match of two halves as much as it was a tale of two cities.
The first half was the best of times of Milan, and what followed after the break would certainly be the worst. Before Gerrard got us back into the game with a header, Andriy Shevchenko had the opportunity to end the Reds for good.
His well-struck freekick was parried away by the Polish keeper, who kept his side’s deficit at three. He made the save of the century as he denied Shevchenko once again, not once but twice from just a yard out.
The save titled ‘the hand of Pope’ is one that needs to be believed as it defies all expectations. Maybe it was meant to be Liverpool’s night, but Dudek ensured he was there when needed.
He further went on to cement his place in Reds folklore by co-opting Bruce Grobbelaar’s spaghetti legs mind games to put off both Sylvinho and Andrea Pirlo before heaping further misery on Shevchenko.
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The keeper’s performance in the final led to his name being immortalized in a pop song named – ‘Do the Dudek’. Although cringy at times, it is something to dance to as we celebrate an overlooked figure in Reds history.