Desmond Kane

Poland’s renaissance man Boruc is truly blessed

Desmond Kane

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In the Premier League's pantheon of classy goalkeepers, an Artur Boruc striving for perfection at Southampton is hardly an afterthought.

For natural ability, Boruc is among the very best European football has to offer. Boruc was once titled the 'Holy Goalie' by Celtic fans such was his penchant for blessing himself before matches. And at Ibrox Stadium, apparently during and after them. His affection for donning T-shirts paying tribute to his late compatriot, Pope John Paul II - a goalkeeper in Poland before being anointed Il Papa - was something mythical in the haggard environs of Scottish football.

He will hope to have God on his side against England at Wembley tonight. If the rumours are to be believed, only Boruc and divine intervention stand between a disunited Poland defence and a heavy going over in London; 20,000 Polish fans inside Wembley will hope otherwise.

With Poland already out of contention to qualify for next summer's World Cup finals amid some general squad disunity, Artur could be as busy as Jan Tomaszewski was in that infamous World Cup qualifier of 1973. If Poland replicate that 1-1 outcome, England would face a fraught play-off. The outspoken Brian Clough wrote off Tomaszewski as a "clown". Boruc is no clown. Rather eccentrically brilliant.

Boruc remains very much a blessed talent. Much has been made of Fraser Forster's outings for Celtic against Barcelona in the Champions League, but Boruc was unearthing similar levels of defiance at the Scottish club when his successor was only making his way in the world at Newcastle United's youth academy.

It is slightly strange how football brings together two goalkeepers with so much in common from their recent pasts. England need to pluck three points to qualify for the World Cup finals, but to do that they need to beat Boruc. That could be easier said than done.

He is only 33, and in his pomp in recapturing the prime levels of form with Southampton that made him such a formidable goalkeeper in Glasgow. It is no coincidence Southampton occupy fourth spot in the Premier League having shipped only two goals in their opening seven games.

Joe Hart starts for England, but Forster will be able to witness from the bench some of the antics that made Boruc such a hard act to follow. It says much about Forster that Boruc has not been missed. Signing such a replacement seemed unlikely when he left Celtic Park after five gilded seasons.

Boruc made 153 appearances for the Glasgow club, snagged 43 of the 55 caps he has picked up for his country and twice helped Celtic reach the last 16 of the Champions League. In a footnote, he claimed three Scottish titles.

It is difficult to imagine there was a sense of disappointment when the then Celtic manager Gordon Strachan picked up Boruc from Legia Warsaw for around £650,000 back in 2005. A move for the Hearts goalkeeper Antti Niemi had been heavily touted while Boruc was a fairly obscure figure in comparison. When Boruc departed Celtic for Fiorentina, there was a sense of regret emanating from Boruc and the club's fans.

"I hope I can return as a spectator and a supporter in the future, and I wish my successor the very best of luck," he said.

Forster could soon follow Boruc to a larger league, but here is an argument to the England manager Roy Hodgson that performing in Scotland is not a barrier to be among the very best in Europe. This is a figure who made 62 appearances at Fiorentina after departing Scotland, knocking Sebastian Frey off his perch in Florence.

Two of Boruc's performances perhaps remain memorable during his days at Celtic. His saves in a win on penalties against Spartak Moscow in the Champions League final qualifying round in 2007. And his stop from a Louis Saha penalty in the death throes of Celtic's 1-0 victory over Manchester United in 2006, a success founded on a Shunsuke Nakamura free-kick that saw Strachan's side progress to the tournament's last-16 stage.

He became a pantomime villain in Scotland especially among fans of traditional Glasgow rivals Rangers, with the Sign of the Cross coming back into sharp focus.

When Boruc was chided for blessing himself in public, the Catholic church became involved, prompting the authorities to issue a statement saying that the act of blessing himself was not in question, rather using an act of faith as an instrument to provoke opposition supporters. Only in Scotland, observers might suggest.

Boruc has traditionally had a little bit of bedevilment. He has had to overcome weight gain during various times in his career. He has been fined a few times by club and country for drinking out of hours while his personal life has tended to be a subject of some titillation in the Scottish red tops, but a man once held up as a playboy seems to be a bloke maturing nicely in Southampton. Perhaps it is apt he is now a Saint.

Relocated and rejuvenated having returned to Poland's national side in January after a two-year absence, Boruc is renaissance man. Arsenal's Wojciech Szczesny has been left outside looking in a disgruntled state, but Boruc is a finer goalkeeper.

England must hope his resurrection does not coincide with their own nosedive.

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