Arsenal hear me on Bielik; what does defensive strengthening mean for Chambers?

It appears I must have some sort of political sway at Arsenal HQ, because after my plea for the Bielik deal to be announced, low and behold the young fella turns up on the official site as a confirmed signing.

I do find it interesting that young plays – boys really – that come from other clubs are given the same ‘new signing’ treatment that big money players in their prime get. Yesterday we had pictures, and official announcement and whilst there hasn’t been any kind of interview or comments from the 17-year-old yet, it wouldn’t surprise me if we don’t see those over the coming days.

Perhaps part of it is driven by the clear lust of fans like me wanting to see that a deal has been done for supposedly one of the hottest young prospects in Europe in his age group. At 6ft 2′ and still only 17, there’s room for Krystian to be a big player in more ways than one at the club, but I do wonder what pressure it puts him under now that the deal is done. After all, Jack Wilshere came from the youth ranks, et was not afforded any kind of fanfare when he signed his professional terms with the club at 16.

I think it’s probably unlikely that Bielik will be in with the first team straight away, despite what Arsène says, so he’ll probably go into our youth setup. So what will the relationship be with the younger players who are probably earning less than him, yet still have the same goal: to make it in to the first team? Will he have to endure extra knocks in training, or in under-21 games? Or will he play under-18 football for the remainder of this season? All is to be revealed, obviously, but I guess what I’m getting at here is that his path to glory may be more difficult because of the very nature of his arrival; a £2.5million price tag for a young superstar whose bones still probably haven’t stopped growing.

Maybe I need to think less about this sort of stuff. After all, Aaron Ramsey arrived at Arsenal for double that fee at 17 and look where he has managed to get to. Sure, that was a road that had his bumps, much like Bielik’s will surely have along the way, but if his character is strong like Ramsey’s, then we’ll have quite a player on our hands I’m sure.

He does look a little like an even henchman from a Batman movie. Don’t know if that’s just me or not…

There’s not really masses going on in terms of news today. There’s quite a bit of chatter about Gabriel Paulista, but as I rarely watch Spanish football and haven’t seen Villareal even once this season, I can’t really give you an informed opinion I’m afraid. If said player does arrive though, one would assume that he’d be looking to get more game time than that of a fourth choice centre half, so you’d expect Chambers to play that role as deputy to the deputy centre half. With Bellerin impressing at right back, he might find his game time limited, but given the number of games he’s already played this season, I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing. He’s shown he is a very good defender, one for the future, but we’ve relied on him too much and we need him to develop in a way that he isn’t run into the ground by the time he hits 21. Confidence plays such a massive part in football and we don’t want his dented.

So perhaps we’ll see Chambers alternating defensive responsibilities with Bellerin over the next three months, which will be good for both players, as they know that there is competition in the team but equally they have a chance to play more games. Much like we don’t want to throw Bellerin in all of the time, we can alternate his frequency of appearances in the first team.

This all goes to show that all of this juggling, when you have such a big squad, isn’t as easy as it looks I suppose. You have to balance between the hear and now and the future of the club when you’re in a position like Arsenal. We need to give young players enough exposure to the first team so they grow into first team regulars, but at the same time not too much exposure so that their careers are – as Arsène would say – ‘killed’.

Who’d be a football manager, eh?

Arsène does Mel, Jenks stories are false and agreeing with Walcott (to a point)

Morning you lot, I hope you’re enjoying your Wednesday and are just happy that we’re slowly but surely making our way through this working week. All’s still quiet on the Western front, which means no signings announced, not even a 17-year-old who the club has confirmed has had a medical.

I mean what’s going on here with Bielik? Is he still in school and hasn’t secured a note from his parents yet? Has somebody kidnapped him and are waiting on Arsenal to pay up to a kings ransom for his release? Arsène Wenger is not Mel Gibson people. He may have that kind of money, but he just doesn’t look good in a kilt with blue and white facepaint. Plus I’m pretty sure he’s not a raving anti-Semite either.

Anyway, whoever has taken Bielik and is playing ‘keep-away’ with him from Dick Law, can you give Dick his Bielik back now please? Remember how much he cried when you did the same thing with Campbell? Nobody wants a weeping Dick.

If you read the transfer talk the gutter press hash together worse than a Mondeo/Volvo estate ‘cut-and-shut’, you’ll possibly have read that Arsène has ‘slapped’ a price tag of £12million on Carl Jenkinson to ward off his East London suitors. Quite why Arsène needs to denigrate Carl by physically sticking a label on him is beyond me, but putting aside some quite funny visual imagery of Le Boss as a used car dealer based in a London Colney showroom, I suspect that this story is nothing more than hypothesising mischief making from the red-tops. Jenkinson has had a good season, Arsenal are down a first team right back, plus I’ve seen David Sullivan respond to a few West Ham fans on Twitter in the last few months about how the Jenkinson loan deal should probably be made permanent.

We know Arsène is a pragmatist and I would be very surprised if he decided to cut the loan short and throw in the towel so early in Jenkinson’s career. As long as you show willing and effort, Arsène always gives longer than most managers for his young players. Just look at how long Senderos was given before Wenger decided he was a busted flush. So I suspect they’ll be no decision made until the summer, whereby Arsène will take a call. One wonders if, now that Bellerin appears to be being used as the right back of choice, we won’t see him improve to a point at which he’s had 20 games under his belt by the end of the season and has improved in a similar way in which Coquelin has improved with game time over the last few weeks. If that is the case, then I expect Arsène to have his plans influenced on the future of Jenkinson, but if Bellerin isn’t able to step up in the coming months Arsène still has the option of sending him out on loan and bringing Jenkinson back into the fold to fight with Debuchy for a place in the team.

The only other stories that appear to have come out over the last 24 hours appear to be from both Walcott and Giroud, the latter of which has said that he models himself on Schevchenko, Jean Pierre Papin (what a player he was) and of course Thierry Henry. Ollie: if you could take a few pinches of each of those players’ footballing essence and sprinkle it over your maple and pecan crunch in the morning, that would be a-ok with me. Just try to avoid the Headbutty, will ya?

He’s shown an efficiency in front of goal this season that I think has been lacking in previous seasons. Last year he did well, but he was always slightly lacking in that ruthlessness to be one of the best in the league, I felt. I don’t know whether or not it’s got anything to do with the competition he’s now got, but he seems to have suddenly become a lot more effective in front of goal. When he’s been fit and not suspended that is.

Perhaps the same that pushed Szczesny to up his game last season, has also pushed Giroud to up his game too? The arrival of Welbeck would suggest his position is not 100% guaranteed and with the manager faced with other options like Theo and Alexis who could also (in theory) play through the middle, Giroud is probably looking at his situation as more precarious than it’s ever been.

It’s why I can kind of understand what Walcott is talking about when he mentions that our squad is probably better attacking-wise than he’s ever seen it. When Walcott arrived we had some amazing players, but they were the cream of the crop and once you got beyond the first two or three forwards, I always felt that we weren’t as strong in squad depth as we are today. There’s more competition for places today and as a result we might just be seeing the value of competition as it pushes players to be at their best, or fear losing their place.

Just a thought and a theory. What’s yours?

An unsung hero

I wanted to spend a little bit of time today to talk a of an unsung hero. A player who has been an almost ever-present in the Arsenal team this season, yet rarely do I take to social media and see his name mentioned.

I’m sure the manager has referenced him before at some stage over the last month or two, but I have rarely done so when writing post-match blogs or general musings, so I thought I’d take a wee bit of time today to appreciate the value and contribution that he adds not just to the squad, but this season to the first team too.

It’s Nacho Monreal who is the subject of my thoughts today. Bought in just under two years ago, he’s had an interesting time at The Arsenal to say the least. £8million for a left back, when Kieran Gibbs was clearly first choice at the time (albeit injured when we signed Nacho), seemed like a lot of money for a player with whom would nominally be a substitute or used in rotation. It’s unlike Arsène to go out and spunk a wedge of cash that big on a fella with whom he’s unlikely to see develop as a youngster and eventually overtake the man currently holding down that position. That’s the sort of signing that Arsène likes to spend that kind of money on. Yet here was an established Spanish international who was coming in for competition with Gibbs and along with the previous signings of Cazorla, Podolski and Giroud, was at an age where he was mature enough to see himself as a first team regular and not an up-and-coming contender.

Last season was a difficult one for Nacho I thought, because he had bedded in to the team having signed in the previous January, but found his playing time more limited by the continued fitness of Gibbs. Nacho’s role in the team was constricted to that of the archetypal squad player: playing in FA Cup games, the occasional league games and often coming on as a sub, interestingly enough quite often not for Gibbs, but as a more forward-lying left sided midfielder.

I’ll be honest with you, I didn’t think Nacho would get as much game time as he has this season and if you’d have asked me in the summer which first team players would start to angle for a move come January, I’d have put Podolski, Nacho and Cazorla as the key men. Obviously we know about Santi’s sparkling form and Poldi has left for distant shores, but Nacho has been this season’s surprise package for me. We’ve found out something about our Spaniard that we did not know before this season: he has versatility.

Just think about the positions he’s played since joining Arsenal; left back, left midfield/wing, plus this season at centre half and do you know what? I think he’s done well in the most part in all positions. Let’s not forget that he’d never played as a centre half before in his career, yet this season he’s been asked to step in to one of the most physical leagues in the world. He isn’t the most physically imposing player in the league, yet he’s been going toe-to-toe with Premier League strikers, most of whom are big physical presences or lightning quick. Or sometimes both.

Yet I can only think of one or two occasions in which he has looked slightly out of place at centre half. Sure, we have been shocking defensively at times this season, but I don’t recall it being because of Nacho’s individual errors, or poor positioning. Perhaps that’s because we’ve lacked protection at the back by our midfielders? Certainly when you look at the protection afforded the back four on Sunday, it makes you wonder how much more solid we could have been, had we been able to field better defensive minded players to screen the back four during those weeks in which Nacho was a regular at centre back. The game at Moneychester City has shown the Arsenal players that defending can be so much more easier for the back four if there is more protection and less space for playmakers to pick up the ball in pockets of space and play balls in behind defenders.

So on to that game at the weekend, in which Monreal reassumed his more favoured role of left back and was quite different to when we played at the Etihad last season, where many saw him as one of the weakest links in the chain that day. He didn’t have the greatest of games, but I seem to recall that up until the City game last season, he hadn’t played much football. Asking a player not 100% up to speed and probably not having had the chance to play himself into form, to go to the eventual champions and put on a stellar display, is probably quite a tough ask.

Yet this season he showed what happens when a player is given enough game time. I saw a Monreal who was snapping into tackles early, trying to win the ball quickly from Navas, or the nearest player on that side. I also saw a Monreal who showed that he can be very effective going forward. It was his ‘give and go’ that led to our penalty and first blood being drawn. He had a really good game at the weekend and the fact that Arsène is keeping him in the team ahead of Gibbs is a very telling statement of the form the Spaniard is in.

Much like Santi, Nacho is in the team on merit and I hope he keeps his place, because that means he’s playing well and the chances are so are we. As the season reaches ‘squeaky bum time’, we need as many players hitting top form as possible, so seeing that Arsène is having selection headaches all over the park is exactly what we want as fans.

Keep it up Nacho, keep it up.

Old cliches, new blueprint?

Well that wasn’t quite what we expected yesterday, was it? I mean, victory against the Champions, on their own turf? Ok, who are you and what have you done with the real Arsenal?

I’m still actually quite stunned to be honest with you. Somebody obviously decided that the ‘Big book of footballing certainties’ was torched, because Arsenal away from home to one of the best sides in the country, do not tend to get a result. Like, ever.

But here we are, waking up this morning to the realisation that after years of performances that leave us fans coiling and wincing in pain, we have finally broken the farcical record we have against the Manchester clubs which saw us last winning in Manchester in something like 2007.

Well, I know we beat City about four years ago at the Etihad, but that victory always felt a little flawed because of the very early sending off of Boyata. But not yesterday’s. Yesterday’s win was fully deserved, meticulously planned and superbly executed by and Arsenal team that was pretty unrecognisable from the fragile team that we’ve seen on numerous occasions this season.

Arsène Wenger set up a team to not get beat. I repeat: Arsène Aenger set up a team to not get beat. Here is the man who we all know prefers to take the line that if we play our way, we’ll win regardless of what the opposition do, who yesterday looked at the opposition and said “nope, we’re going to have to play differently today”, which is exactly what his team did. It paid off. Compact in defence and resolute in keeping our shape, aside from a small spell after halftime which had me reaching for the booze, we controlled the game in a ‘rope-a-dope’ style that is more akin to seeing a Mourinho Chelski perform than Arsène and his charges.

Gary Neville was positively purring all yesterday, which was great to hear instead of the usual embarrassing list of issues that usually gets (correctly) labelled at the team. The defence will get the plaudits today I’m sure, but as Souness pointed out after the game, it was the responsible actions of a disciplined midfield that ensured that Koscienly and Mertesacker were not massively stretched throughout the 94 minutes. Aaron Ramsey went ‘back to basics’ as Arsène has suggested previously. Francis Coquelin was imperious in midfield and snapping into tackles left, right and centre. He won a number of aerial duels yesterday when the ball was pumped long by Joe Hart and it had me wondering when was the last time we had a player who won the first ball like that in a big game?

But Santi deserves his own paragraph. What a performance. Playing centrally is definitely something that is working for him right now. He won tackles, he distributed the ball well, he scored a good penalty, he set up Giroud’s goal and he had a few very fancy dribbles that were mesmerising. He even had time to throw in a little jig when Giroud headed in his free kick. Mesut Özil is a fine player, but he will have to wait some time to get back into the team with the way that Santi is playing right now. Both him and Coquelin have been essential over the last few weeks and whilst the clamour to solve problems is often seen as being something to sort out in the transfer window, the midfield isn’t something that looks like it needs tinkering with at all. I only hope that Coquelin doesn’t just ‘do a Flamini’ with his contract running down at the end of the season. He’s now strung together about five games in which he’s been excellent and he only needs to put together another three or four of those and there won’t be many suggesting he can’t be the answer to our defensive midfield problems.

As for the way we set up yesterday. Doesn’t it feel like the penny has finally dropped for this Arsenal team? I know it’s just one game and we could easily pick the penny back up again knowing this Arsenal side, but it feels like they actually ‘get it’. The best teams adapt their styles to nullify the opposition, whilst trying to assert their own style on the game where possible, thereby achieving the required result. Moneychester City wanted an Arsenal team that would try to go all ‘Rocky’ on them and turn a football match into a slug fest of ‘you have a go, we’ll have a go’. They wanted us to come at them so we could be picked off. It didn’t happen. Arsène was right post-match when he talked about the importance of getting the first goal. With the way in which we set up, the first goal allowed us to protect what we had, whilst probing for a second in a conservative nature. Had we conceded early, it’s unlikely that we’d have stuck to such a stringent, self-imposed defensive shape. But by striking first we were able to set our stall out for the game and beat the champions on their own home soil.

Is this the blueprint for future games against the best teams? That’s a difficult question to answer. Football is a game of variables and it would be folly to suggest that we can play like that every time we play a big team, home or away. For example, when we play Chelski at home in a few months time, do you think Mourinho will play a more expansive game? Or will he play just like we did yesterday? The answer is obvious, but if we set up exactly the same when we play the Chavs at home, it would probably have ‘bore draw’ written all over it, which would not be what the home support would be wanting to see. So whilst I don’t think we’ll be going back to ‘one nil to the Arsenal’ any time soon, it is pleasing to know that the manager is prepared to be flexible to get the result he wants, by understanding and adapting to the opposition.

There wasn’t a poor performance from an Arsenal player yesterday. I haven’t even mentioned Alexis, who was his usual tireless self, or the two full backs Monreal and Bellerin, who were excellent. Nor have I waxed lyrical over The Ox’s good display. I could probably fill another 1,000 words talking about each individual player, but I’ve only got about five minutes before I lose phone signal, so I’ll wrap it up for today.

It was only three points yesterday and we have to recognise that, but the psychological boost this will give the team will hopefully be massive, so let’s see whether the team can go on a run now.

See you tomorrow.

Anything’s a bonus today

It’s Sunday, the time of prayer in the Christian world, to which I too am offering up some prayers to the football gods for this afternoons game. I am praying for a win or even a draw, because let’s face it, our chances seem slim giving our history, the form of the champions, our patchy form, plus more news that we’ve lost more players to injury this week. Yet more blows to the team.

Yet despite the injury problems, despite the opportunity to address that by signing somebody in January and despite the bookies and most pundits expecting this to be a routine home win today, the good thing about pre-match run ups to the game are that there is still hope.

I still hope that we will turn up and surprise City. I still hope that we can put in a performance more like the one at home to Stoke rather than the one away to Stoke. And I still have hope that Alexis Sanchez will win the battle of the big stars against Sergio Aguero.

In the reversal of this fixture it was Alexis who put us ahead with a stunning volley that was worthy of winning any match, but as usual our defensive fragility came back to haunt us, conceding from a corner allowing an unmarked Demichelis to nod home. City could have had other goals that day and we rode our luck, but a draw was probably a fair result, so given that the oil whores are on home soil today, I would expect to be punished more than we were at home if we defend like we have done at times this season.

The manager has a decision to make on who plays in goal and, whilst Ospina has done nothing wrong, I just wonder if Arsène will bring Szczesny back into the team today. Wojciech has gone on record before to say that sometimes he needs that bit of competition to push him and improve him. Well Woj, now you’ve had it because you’ve lost your place, so what are you going to do? Arsène might just have that in his mind and he might have used a relatively safe game like Stoke at home to scare Wojciech into thinking he could lose his place into the side. So if he starts today, I fancy him to be quite motivated indeed, so I do.

Defence picks itself I think. Back two because we don’t really have any options, with Monreal still playing instead of the returning Gibbs, plus Chambers on the right hand side rather than Bellerin. Hector has done nothing wrong, but he’s a young and inexperienced player who has struggled at times away from home, so I’d be surprised if he was in the team from the start against City.

Midfield and attack is where it gets interesting, because Arsène does have a choice, so I think he’ll find it tough deciding who starts today. I think Coquelin has done enough to retain his place, but the role of the other two midfielders is a tough one. I suspect he’ll start Cazorla from the beginning in the middle, because he’s been so effective of late, but does he go with Ramsey or Rosicky as his box-to-boxer? Or does The Ox get the nod, with Theo wide right and Alexis wide left? That pace would certainly give City something to think about and if they play a high line against us then you have to hope that we can capitalise if both those two are flanking Giroud up top.

One things for sure, if those two do play, we need to get Santi or Özil on the ball as often as possible. They are the two best passers at the club and if we’re going to go direct with pace, then those two need to be given the ball any time we break down a City attack. Ramsey and The Ox’s passing range is not great at all, but Santi and Mesut could drop the ball on a pin head, so you want to see them giving Alexis or Theo the ball from deep.

We also have the option of hitting Giroud with the ball and, with his ability to be such an effective link up man up top, one suspects that the two wide men need to be as close to him as possible for the big Frenchman to have an effective afternoon.

Whatever side we put out, the odds are stacked against us and with all of the teams around us winning yesterday, I don’t hold out much hope. Defeat today isn’t the end of the world, because all of the other teams that visit the Etihad around us will drop points there, if they haven’t done so already, so it’s a strange situation where I’m looking at this game and thinking a single point would be a bonus.

Keep those fingers crossed and let’s hope for some positive news come 6pm.

Alexis is the difference from last season’s City games

Arsene was in fine form yesterday at the pre-match presser, wasn’t he? Laughing with the hacks, joking about their constant reminders on our form against the top teams, even giving a completely straight and direct answer to the questions about signing the young Legia Warsaw midfielder Krystian Bielik. All yes’ as far as that transfer is concerned, although I think we all knew that anyway so there was hardly any other person that really needed confirmation from Arsene that the young Pole would be joining.

Asked about the game on Sunday, I thought Wenger was quite upbeat actually, which I am hoping is a good sign. He was quick to point out the ‘special circumstances’ of last seasons battering at the Etihad, but given that we have such a shocking record against the traditional top three teams in the division, he seemed to be quite positive.

Dismissing history as a relevance to this game however, surely can’t just be the naïve belief that he has, can it? I mean, when you’re consistently turned over by the big teams there surely can be no way that it doesn’t play on the players minds. We have terrible records away from home to United, Chelski, City and I’d probably even say the Spuds over the last few years, so the idea that we’re going to turn up at Moneychester City’s ground with no real apprehensions about our inability to kill off better teams, seems a foolish notion to me.

I’ll lay my cards on the table now a day before my pre-match preview: I am not in confident mood ahead of tomorrow. I can’t see how we are going to win. A draw right now would be a dream result as far as I’m concerned. City have too much firepower and we have too much defensive fragility. Tomorrow i’ll try to put a more positive spin on my pre-match blog, but today I’m looking at the cold light of day and I can’t see – along with all of the pundits in world football, I’m afraid – how we’re going to win this game.

But Arsene has to believe differently, so he has to remain positive, so I’m glad he’s doing it more for all of us. I guess one reason that he has to be positive is that we’re a better team than we were when we played City last season. I’m not a fan of his ‘yeah, but this was why we lost’ excuses, but he had a point when asked about last year’s game. We had played in Italy on Wednesday, then were down to play on Saturday lunchtime, so it must have played some part. We were also a bit hard done by on a few decisions in the game and I remember counting persistent fouls by one City player on the day on my Twitter feed, which led to no booking whatsoever. There as also a disallowed goal too. Plus there was a penalty for City which probably should not have been. All of this sounds like very Arsenesque excuse making, which it sort of is I guess, but it’s just worth noting that the rub of the green didn’t really go for us that day. It went so far heavily in City’s favour that Pellegrini’s mum spent days cleaning the grass stains from his trouser knees.

I am also going to go out on a limb here too and suggest that we have a better team than we did last year. Certainly going forward, anyway. Although Welbeck is still injured, a front three that is likely to include Alexis in the form he is in, automatically gives us an extra 10% to our game. He was the subject of conversations in both pre-match press conferences of both manager’s ahead of Sunday’s game, with Pellegrini arguing that Alexis is the best player in the league right now. I listened to a radio station last night which had numerous City fans coming on to disagree and, whilst Aguero has the reputation and history of doing it across a number of years in this division, there’s no doubt that Alexis has done it more often, mainly because he’s been fit all season. When we played the oil whores last year, did we have a player in such a rich vein of form? I know we were in pretty good form as a collective up until that point, but even the top teams have that special player that gives them the ‘X’ factor (that phrase has been permanently ruined by Cowell and his cronies by the way, to which I’ll never forgive them), which I don’t think we had last season to the extent we have had this season in Alexis. The hope is that he sparkles tomorrow instead of having a quiet game.

Of course that will depend on his teammates also stepping up, because playing against the top team requires more than just one man to win the game. When you’re playing a Stoke or a Hull at home, you can rely on one player if you keep solid at the back and let him be the difference, but there’s no doubt City will score tomorrow, so we can’t rely on keeping a clean sheet and hoping that Alexis is the difference with the odd goal.

So we’ll need to look towards the team – the virtues of which Arsene emphasised with his clear dressing down of the Ballon D’or and it’s purpose in a game which is aimed at team success and victory as a collective – to provide the support for Alexis in winning the game. It’s going to be harder with the first choice right back out for essentially the rest of the season, but you have to hope that those that start tomorrow will give additional cover to whoever starts – Chambers or Bellerin. More on my predicted line up tomorrow methinks. For now, go and enjoy your Saturday. It looks like there’s a bit of snow coming down outside, so I’m going to make a snow angel. Then pray to it for three points for The Arsenal this weekend.

Cheerio.

The completely false Bielik origin story

So it seems the deal to bring Krystian Bielik to Arsenal is all but completed and by some stage this weekend we’ll possibly get confirmation of it. Although we all know that Arsenal like to tease us by eeking out a transfer announcement, so don’t be surprised if it doesn’t happen until the middle of the week.

But, like many of you I’m sure, I know nothing of this young 17-year-old and so I thought I would bring about a public service to you. Like I said, I don’t know anything about this player and rather than doing some actual research on the phone internet, I thought I would completely make up his origin story for you today. So, here it is:

Krystian ‘Treebeard’ Bielik (nicknamed by his teammates because of his size and unhealthy obsession for the halflings leaf) was born in 1998 in a quiet suburb of Warsaw, to parents Penelope and Pietre who upon receiving young Krystian into the world, were immediately thrust into the public eye.

Having given birth to a 6ft baby and spending 682 hours in labour, Penelope was revered as a modern day marvel and Krystian was hailed as something of a marvel by the local people of Warsaw. Penelope – being only 3ft 6inches herself, was said to have shunned daylight in the months leading up to the pregnancy due to her near tripling of size in the final few months of labour.

Pietre – a natural showman and giant strongman for the local circus – was obviously delighted that his son had picked up his genes and was known at the time to remark to the local press in Poland that his son would “travel as the newest of the wonders of the world”. It was no secret that Pietre saw his sons life in the circus, following in the footsteps of giant strongmen that went back in the Bielik family as far as the early 19th century.

So the career path his son was to take, would certainly be a surprising one for Pietre, that’s for sure.

Krystian had a challenging childhood. Being so much more obviously taller than the other children in his school, Bielik found time in class an uncomfortable one, almost literally as his school could not afford any more full adult chairs than the ones the teachers had. So Krystian had to kneel for hours at a time on a typical school day. It was here that the beginnings of his combative defensive midfielder roots were formed.

Building on his obvious size, Krystian used an outlet for which he could be championed by his school and fellow students: sport. Beginning with single handedly winning the Polish under-8s national basketball championship, Bielik was able to secure funding for his small school to receive a Government grant that afforded them full sized equipment to accommodate their giant child. In addition, the school managed to upgrade all computer systems and even build a basketball court to hone young Krystian’s skills.

But although he enjoyed the adulation and continued to play basketball until he was 13, Kyrstian never truly fell in love with the game nor any sport, until a chance meeting with a travelling leper just after his 12th birthday. So local legend goes in Warsaw, that the leper only appears to those who appear to have everything but who harbour a deep-seated longing for something more. Named ‘Larry’ by the locals, the leper is said to be able to reach into ones heart and pull out the longing that the individual wants the most in the world, showing it to said individual and giving them purpose to achieve that goal buried deep in their subconscious.

For you see, at such a young age, poor Krystian just wanted to be like the other boys. He wanted to play the game the other boys played. He wanted to play football. That fateful day, Larry gave Krystian a golden football, telling him to practice with it alone every day for five hours. The leper told Krystian that his dreams could come true, but only if he practiced hard, by kicking the golden ball against a concrete wall and ensuring that wherever the ball rebounded, it would never fall behind him. “You must be like the wall Krystian”, said Larry. “You must be as unwavering and obstructive as the wall. Then, you will see your dreams come true.”

So Kyrstian did as Larry said. For three years. Every day. He mastered the art of stopping the ball get beyond him. He became as one with the wall. So much so, that the he local passers by used to remark that at times they could not recognise who was the human and who was the wall. So too did a scout out for a morning jog with his St Bernard one day. The scout was a former player from Legia Warsaw, who has always refused to be named in public. But this scout saw in Krystian the potential he has and reported back to his superiors of a boy with a golden ball in the suburbs of Warsaw who could match any of the other defensive midfielders the club could have.

The scout returned the next day, took Krystian back to Pietre and told him of his vision for his son: to become the greatest (and tallest) central defensive midfielder the world has ever seen.

“Will be travel the world and become one of its great wonders?” asked Pietre.

“He will” said the scout.

The rest, as they say, is history.