TOMASZ Kuszczak may only have been a back-up ‘keeper for Manchester United but in two seasons with Brighton & Hove Albion he established himself as one of the club’s best ever between the sticks.
Born in Krosno Odrzańskie in western Poland on 20 March 1982, he began his career with one of his country’s top teams, Śląsk Wrocław before crossing over the border to Germany to play for KFC Uerdingen 05 and Hertha Berlin.
He was capped at under 16, under 18 and under 21 level by Poland and, while never first choice ‘keeper for the senior international side, he made his debut in 2003, in a 4-0 win over Malta, and played 11 times for his country, the last time in 2012. He initially took over from Liverpool keeper Jerzy Dudek but, invariably, Artur Boruc and Wojciech Szczesny were picked ahead of him.
While visiting Krakow in 2015, in conversation with a taxi driver, I discovered Polish football followers were brutally unforgiving of a massive blunder Kuszczak made in a World Cup warm-up match between Poland and Columbia on 30 May 2006 when he conceded a goal directly from a long punt by the opposition goalkeeper, Luis Enrique Martinez.
By then, he had been playing in England for two years, Gary Megson (now back in temporary charge at The Hawthorns) having signed him for West Brom in 2004. He was reserve ‘keeper behind firstly Russell Hoult and then Chris Kirkland, and played just 31 games for The Baggies over two years.
However, when he did get a chance, in a game against Wigan Athletic in January 2005, he pulled off a spectacular save to deny Jason Roberts, which was subsequently voted Save of the Season by Match of the Day viewers.
In a curiously complicated transfer deal, Man U signed Kuszczak in the summer of 2006 in exchange for United’s former Albion loanee, Paul McShane, and young goalkeeper Luke Steele, but the first year of the arrangement was on a loan basis.
At United, he was behind Edwin van de Sar in the pecking order and typically mainly played cup matches or deputised when the regular no.1 was injured. In 2010, he collected a League Cup winners’ medal when United beat Aston Villa 2-1.
In five seasons at United, he played a total of 61 games but, by the time the 2011-12 season came round, Kuszczak was way down the list of United custodians, with David de Gea first choice, and Anders Lindegaard and Ben Amos ahead of him.
In February 2012, Kuszczak was loaned to then Championship side Watford, where he made 13 appearances. On his release from United in June 2012, he moved to Brighton.
Over two seasons with the Seagulls, he finally got regular playing time and completed 89 appearances in the two successive play-off promotion campaigns, initially under Gus Poyet and then Oscar Garcia.
One of the best insights into his time at Brighton and United came in a December 2013 article. Speaking to Sportsmail on behalf of Sky Bet, he told The Footballers’ Football Column: “I miss the Premier League a lot. The idea around moving to Brighton was to get more games and put myself on the market. That was important after six years at Manchester United where I didn’t play a key role in the team.
“I did have my chances there, but I sacrificed my time sometimes. I was sitting on the bench a lot. Ten matches a season wasn’t enough for me. I was really hungry for football and decided to change something in my life.
“This move was all about giving me the opportunity of playing in the Premier League in the future. I would love to go with Brighton – that’s the aim. We’re ambitious and want promotion.
“It may sound arrogant but my place is in the Premier League. I came to England with West Bromwich Albion and enjoyed my time there, as I did at United. I want to be back in business in front of great crowds. I want my friends to be watching me on TV every week and have a chance of challenging the best in the world.
“People were interested in me when I wanted to leave Old Trafford, but that’s not surprising as a Manchester United player. There will always be interest.
“If you play for them it’s not an accident. If you join that club you’re talented.”
Of his time at United, he said: “I knew I’d get my chances and Sir Alex Ferguson did give me them. They maybe weren’t regular games but I was part of some in the big competitions. Ferguson would always remember me and trust me.
“I came from Poland, where we always work hard and be positive. Lazy people never achieve anything. There is always enough time to improve yourself and you can achieve something every single morning. Yes it was frustrating, but I managed to control that.
“At Brighton the expectations at the start of the season were high. We’re slowly getting there now but there is still a lot of work to do.
“Oscar Garcia was brought in as our new manager over the summer and it takes a while for everyone to settle. Players need to understand new tactics and approaches – that is always the same when you have a new boss.”
Within days of Garcia’s resignation after the play-off defeat to Derby, it was announced Kuszczak was being released.
There were a number of unsubstantiated and colourful reasons as to why he wasn’t retained by Brighton, but Andy Naylor in The Argus said neither Garcia nor his replacement, Sami Hyypia rated his ability with his feet or his distribution skills.
For around six months, Kuszczak was unable to find a new club but then Kenny Jackett took him to Wolverhampton Wanderers where he played 13 games deputising for the injured Carl Ikeme.
Midlands rivals Birmingham City swooped to sign him in the summer of 2015, and he has been with the Blues since then.
Even though Harry Redknapp signed Brighton’s David Stockdale as first choice ‘keeper at St Andrew’s for this season, Kuszczak has found himself back in the first team since Steve Cotterill arrived as manager.
Pictures purloined from the internet show a shot that appeared in the Daily Mirror of Kuszczak with Man U boss Sir Alex Ferguson; skysports.com’s shot of him in Brighton colours and a Birmingham Mail image of the ‘keeper in an alternative Brighton kit.