Remember Jan Lastuvka? In what must have been 2007 there were rumours that Fulham were in the market for a backup goalkeeper and I think they came quite close to signing a reasonably good Croatian (Stiple Pletikosa?). That fell through and instead came Jan Lastuvka, who, we later learned, appealed to Chris Coleman because he could kick the ball a long way.
Fulham fans didn’t take to Lastuvka. He seemed uncertain, which is something you shouldn’t seem if you want to be a goalkeeper. Also he could be slow getting down to shots. My memory isn’t what it was, but were Fulham playing Spurs when Lastuvka let a slow, piddling shot roll across him into the far corner, possibly in injury time, possible to surrender a winning position?
Yes. Okay, so he played against Liverpool when Fulham lost 4-0, then against Blackburn when Fulham lost 2-0, then wasn’t used again until Antti Niemi had that horrible accident.
That game finished 0-0, but next we drew 3-3 with West Ham, had the aforementioned draw against Spurs, then after beating Newcastle (in the Bullard game), we lost at Bolton and against Manchester United, the latter after Cristiano Ronaldo skated off down the wing and beat Lastuvka with an angled drive that in retrospect might have been saved. It added up to a 15 concessions in seven starts reign of terror and a general feeling that something had gone wrong in our scouting department. Yes, he was behind a back four that might on any given day have gone Rosenior, Knight, Pearce, Quedrue, but you can’t concede two goals a game and get away with it (as we since proved).
While everyone was getting angry at Lastuvka, I was worried about him. What could his day-to-day life be like? Here he was in a new country and his team were reluctantly relying on him and he wasn’t doing very well. That must have felt pretty awful. True, to ascend to the heights of professional sport you do need a thick skin and an ability to put mistakes behind you, but new countries and new clubs are tricky propositions. Once you get the vibe that nobody rates you, it must make for a fairly uncomfortable life.
Thing is, he did have a pedigree. He’d won the Czech league and appears to have received a ‘young player of the year’ award. Later he was Petr Cech’s backup in the Czech Republic team, and in September 2011 he started in a 2-2 draw with Scotland.
“An own goal by Hayden Mullins consigned West Ham to an early Carling Cup exit at the hands of Watford. The winner came when Hammers keeper Jan Lastuvka missed an Lee Williamson free-kick, which then struck Mullins and trickled over the goal-line.”
He went back to play in Ukraine and, as best I can tell, was well nigh unbeatable in various runs in the Dnipro goal. In 2009/10 he seems to have conceded 14 in 17 games. In 2010/11 14 in 20. In 2011/12 26 in 27. So, you know, he could function as a good goalkeeper in context.
In think the latter is key. I read somewhere, it must have been either Malcolm Gladwell or someone of his ilk, that the best students in American schools are better off going to universities where they’ll be the best student there, rather than somewhere like Harvard. I think the finding, and I’m getting this wrong I think, was that the top students at minor universities publish more academic papers than do the lower students at the top universities, even though the latter group are theoretically starting from a higher level and are going to a better school. There’s something about being a big fish in a small pond that works well for most people; we like to feel that we’re at the top, doing well, that things are going our way. So when he returned to play in Ukrain Lastuvka could get out of bed feeling like a pretty damn good goalkeeper. He could walk around the training ground with a spring in his step. He could star down opposing forwards and think “not today, sunshine.” He could feel invincible.
Jan Lastuvka was lucky to get just the right chances at just the right times, and as he sits back and reflects on his career he’ll be able to tell anyone who’ll listen about the time Ronaldo skinned the entire Fulham team and blasted that rocket into the far corner of his goal, about the packed house at St James’ Park where you could see fans almost up in the sky, and about that thrilling 3-3 draw at Upton Park when he was so happy he skidded on his knees before the Fulham fans in celebration, screaming with happiness. What a moment. What a career.