Artur Boruc stature grows as he faces England test

Boruc has helped Southampton go 382 minutes without conceding a goal in a whole month. Picture: AFP/Getty
Boruc has helped Southampton go 382 minutes without conceding a goal in a whole month. Picture: AFP/Getty
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IN SKETCHING the original Vitruvian Man, Leonardo da Vinci sought to explore and develop his appreciation of the dimensions of humanity. But were there two men in his design or just one?

When the editors of Przeglad Sportowy borrowed the 520-year-old idea to illustrate the scope of Artur Boruc’s goalkeeping in print last week, they may have been part-motivated by the ongoing exploration into the psyche of the man who stands between England and automatic qualification for the 2014 World Cup tonight at Wembley.

There is only one Artur Boruc, as close followers of his singular, soap-opera career might testify, but to reprise Goran Ivanisevic’s famous self-diagnosis from the grasses of Wimbledon, there appear to be numerous versions of the man, and he may be as powerless as anybody else to control which one appears in form on any given day.

If Boruc has a bad night at Wembley, or suffers an errant moment that is hard to describe without the aid of psychological references, it will be of a piece with his rocky biography – because his performances for Southampton this season have been marvellous. It takes a lot more than a strong-armed custodian to build a dam in the Barclays Premier League, but it is inconceivable that a defence could remain impregnable throughout 382 minutes of football, stretching across an entire calendar month, without a No 1 whose game is based on technical excellence as well as heroic athleticism.

The occasion demands that Boruc be mentioned in the same breath tonight as Jan Tomaszewski, who famously repelled English advances in 1973, but, even when relieving him of the baggage of Brian Clough’s bitter and derogatory “clown in gloves” comment, it would be illogical to compare the games of the 1970s great and his contemporary successor, given the accelerated pace of change in the game during that time.

As Gordon Strachan, who managed Boruc at Celtic, said last week: “I remember Tomaszewski – he just had the game of his life. Boruc is technically far better. He helped me and our team to win championships and get to the last 16 of European Cups. He has the ability to win games for you. He has an incredible presence in goal.

“When you see him in there when he is at his best, you think: ‘How do I beat this man?’ He has incredible confidence and all the ability in the world. And he has a great big-match temperament. Nothing bothers or fazes him.”

The Scotland manager’s analysis of Tomaszewski – who shone brilliantly at the 1974 World Cup finals, proving that his Wembley wonders were no freak occurrence – could be considered harsh, but the way he signed off on his endorsement of Boruc’s assets was more illuminating.

That the man from small-town Siedlce should be hailed for his big-game mentality might raise eyebrows among anybody who watched him play in these parts, when occasions of greater significance and noise brought out of Boruc as much bad as good.

Far from being the first Rangers or Celtic player to bring a lack of tact to the incendiary derby, Boruc’s insistence on crossing himself when the Glasgow rivals locked horns hinted at an armour-like thickness of skin, but it could also have been interpreted as something close to wilful self-destructiveness.

He still carries an alarming liking for incitement, as if believing himself an actor safe on the silver screen, having been dropped for one match by Southampton after a spat with their fans that rekindled memories of the gestures that led to a Crown Office caution in 2006.

Little can be learned from his infamous clangers, such as the John Rankin shot from halfway that somehow deceived him, nor the hedonism that led to his being stripped of the Polish No 1 shirt by Leo Beenhakker – all basic proof, surely, of the existence of a human being behind football’s fantasy veneer. More educational is the change that he insists has taken place.

“This past year and actually most of my career is a great example of how you have to try to deal with the huge ups and downs that fate brings,” said Boruc last week.

“Whenever I’ve been left out, I’ve always had determination to fight back and re-establish myself. I’ve grown older and I’d like to say wiser. And I’m really pleased that I’ve managed to change for the better, as it wasn’t a small thing.

“I was extremely lucky to be given a blank piece of paper to start again afresh. I’ve matured and I’ve wised up with it.”

Da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man featured four arms and four legs, all appearing to come out of the same male torso, although there may have been another torso concealed behind.

Przeglad Sportowy’s Photoshop depiction of Boruc, featuring the traditional two legs but five pairs of arms set at different but proportionate heights, one of them positioned overhead with hands brought together in applause.

Whether he is deified or decried come the end of another eventful England qualifying campaign tonight, it might ultimately become irrelevant in the life story of Artur Boruc, who stands tall as a man who feels he has long since been saved.