Lukasz Fabiański: ‘I’ve had highs and lows but it is the lows that make you better’

West Ham goalkeeper speaks about his time in English football and why he will never take his life as a professional for granted

If reports of former striker Diafra Sakho having abandoned his sports car at the training ground sum all that West Ham would prefer to forget about the club’s fortunes in recent years, then the attitude of new summer signing Lukasz Fabiański is exactly what they want to hear for the future.

The 33-year-old Polish international joined on a three-year contract from Swansea in the summer, and having endured more than his fair of ups and downs in his 11 years in the Premier League, first at Arsenal and then in south Wales, he is clearly someone who does not take things for granted.

‘All that happened at Arsenal helped me grow into the person I am today,’ he said. ‘I had some highs and really low lows, and some of those situations, especially if you approach them with the right attitude, can make you better not just as a goalkeeper but as a person. Even though it wasn’t the best way of learning, it helped me grow as a person and understand things.

‘I’m not saying I just shrugged those things off – it took me time to get through when some things didn’t go so well, but there were some people at the club that really helped me. Those things happen for a reason, I look at things that way, they helped me get to the point where I am at the present moment. If you do well, life will show you your path.’

Having joined Arsenal at the age of 22, Fabiański endured a frustrating time at the Emirates, playing second fiddle to first Jens Lehmann, then Manuel Almunia and finally fellow Pole Wojciech Szczęsny. Although he played in the UEFA Champions League and picked up an FA Cup winner’s medal, injuries and competition for place restricted him to under 40 first-team appearances in seven years, and when his contract expired in 2014 he decided to move to south Wales for a new challenge – and more obviously, more regular action.

Early in his Swans career he was sent off at West Ham for a foul on, of all people, Diafra Sakho, but one of the highlights of his first season was being named man of the match and keeping a clean sheet as Swansea won at his former side Arsenal, and after just one season, he signed a new, improved contract. He was named the Swans’ player of the year as they were relegated last season, so with Joe Hart’s loan coming to an end, West Ham were in the market for a top class keeper, and in June 2018, he made the move back to London and the London Stadium.

‘After the start I had in English football, not many people would have thought that I’d still be here such a long time later,’ he said. ‘Maybe I matured later, maybe the experiences I had along the way and the way I approached them made me who I am today.’

Fabiański inherited an impressive work ethic and a refreshing dose of modesty, the sort of qualities West Ham fans appreciate, from his parents – his father was a builder and his mother a customs officer. He remains close to his family to this day, and his approach to his job as a professional footballer is clearly one that is very much shaped by his upbringing.

‘My dad is someone who if he starts something, he has to finish it and do it right, however long it takes, and he was always on at me about that. They used to tell me be yourself, work hard and what comes to you will come. That’s the way I’ve approached life – I’m not a show-off, because I believe in the things that were handed down to me. If I do something against what I believe in, I won’t feel good with it, so I don’t. The world of football is a bit crazy, so it’s important to focus on being as normal as you can.’

Fabiański was one of almost an entire team of new arrivals to join the Irons in the summer, but even before there was any suggestion of the former Arsenal player returning to London, he was already aware of West Ham’s heritage and fan culture.

‘When I was at Swansea, I watched the film about West Ham’s last season at the old ground, and from that I could sense the kind of passion that the fans have, and that they have high expectations and believe that this is one of the biggest clubs in English football. When I arrived, the new guys were shown highlights of the club’s biggest achievements and greatest games. I’ve tried to learn as much as I can about the club – I think that new arrivals should do that.’

Another of his favourite films reveals more about what goes on inside Fabiański’s mind, and the way he approaches being a professional footballer. ‘I love the Rocky films – I don’t think they can ever become boring,’ he said. ‘I know it might sound romantic but I really like stories when people have been through tough times or they prove people wrong, or their background is tough and they still make it.

‘As an athlete living in this very competitive environment, there are always times where you are being questioned for right or wrong reasons but it’s up to you to prove people wrong, so I love those films.’

Fabiański may enjoy watching films, but do not expect him to be behaving in a way to attract the attention of the cameras himself, as another insight into his focus and concentration reveals. ‘The Sky walkup? I don’t like doing it,’ he said. ‘If someone has the personality to be like that, it’s cool, but I’m not that kind of person – why should I portray myself in a different way?

‘That’s my personal approach, I’m from a very humble family and that’s the way I was raised. Whatever level you find yourself at, try to stay the person you were raised as. I remember when I was a kid, every summer we’d go to see my grandparents and help them – summer wasn’t about having fun, it was about work, that’s the way I was brought up. Even now if I’m back home and have a rest, my dad will say “why are you not out training or running? You can benefit from it in the future”.’

The future, for now at least, is in claret and blue, and Fabiański says that having learnt a bit about the club and what makes it tick, he is keen to show fans what he can do as well. ‘I’m new here but there are probably still some fresh memories [from last season], what we want to do is erase them and focus on what is in front of us,’ he said. ‘This is more or less a new group of players, with a new manager, and expectations are big, so hopefully the fans can see that we’re improving and progressing with every game, and they can keep faith with us.’

But if things do not always go his way, do not expect Fabiański to spend too long licking his wounds and feeling sorry for himself. As has become clear, self pitying is not the way he was brought up. ‘When you have a bad spell, you have so many different thoughts, I think this is normal, but then the next training is so important because for me it’s always a chance to forget what happened,’ he said. ‘It’s a new day and a fresh start.’

Pressure is not a problem for Fabiański. He is used to facing up to challenges and cites Poland’s biggest star, Bayern Munich striker Robert Lewandowski, as an example to learn from.

‘He’s such a massive person for the Polish nation, he’s everywhere in the media, but the way he handles it is so cool because he’s so normal about everything,’ he said. ‘When you look at my career, it doesn’t matter if it’s in Poland or here, I’ve been through so many different spells and there have been so many times I’ve been questioned – but all those experiences helped me grow, so I really enjoy the level I’m at now.’

With Fabiański, so many answers come back to his upbringing, and the way his character was formed in his earlier years. One of the reasons is because of the trust his parents showed in him as a youngster, and the confidence it helped build. ‘I left home at the age of 15 and I was excited about it, I don’t mind being somewhere on my own, but my parents were less excited,’ he said. ‘I remember having a conversation with them at the age of 14, which is towards the end of primary school in Poland. They said to me that there was a time coming where I’d go to high school or have a chance to play football, so it was choice between staying at home and going through the school system for one way of life, or following my football dreams.

‘I’d already received national recognition at that age so I said there must be something in it that they’d called me up, and I wanted to chase that dream, and that was the only conversation we ever had about it, but I’m so glad that at that age, we had that talk and my parents gave me that choice.

‘It’s now 18 years later, and a lot has happened since but I appreciate it all. What I’m most proud of, though, is that I’ve stuck to my beliefs and remembered what I was told, that hard work will get me something. It’s got me some places already, which is pretty cool, and I believe that now I’m here at West Ham, I’m still going somewhere.’

Hardly the words of someone who will be abandoning a sports car anywhere any time soon.

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