After recently clocking up his 50th clean sheet for the club, Fabianski equaled Shaka Hislop’s tally, leaving only Rob Green (62) and Luděk Mikloško (125) ahead of him in the Premier League era. During his time in east London, F abianski has become the opposite of what his “Flappyhandski” reputation would have suggested, and something that West Ham have always needed.
He’s the boring option that reliably does enough to keep us out of too much trouble. He isn’t the big personality that Roy Carroll was, and he isn’t the spectacular stopper that David James could be, but he doesn’t have to be.
He’s consistent, reliable, and nowadays, part of a well-oiled two-keeper squad that most clubs would dream of. But this year is potentially the most important of Fabianski’s career because now he finds himself at a crossroad.
Alphonse Areola has thrived since being given his chance to step up as the first choice in the Premier League, and Fabianski has been starting in Europe and domestic cup games for the first time since joining West Ham. We’ve all seen how difficult it is to introduce healthy competition into the goalkeeper’s position – David Raya and Aaron Ramsdale at Arsenal have shown how fine an art it is to get right.
But with domestic and continental aspirations both playing an important role in what we measure our success on nowadays, it’s never been more crucial to see strength in depth in the last line of defence. Casting my mind back to when Fabianski arrived at West Ham from Swansea, it was on the back of mixed accolades.
He’d just been voted as the Player of the Season by supporters of his former club, but a goalkeeper winning such an award is often a damning indictment of how everything else has gone – his performances weren’t enough to keep them in the Premier League. On West Ham’s side, Fabianski’s arrival signaled the end of a prolonged period of turbulence in goal, with cult hero Adrian fending off competition in previous seasons from Darren Randolph and Joe Hart to keep a loose grip on a starting place. Finally, there was an undisputed number one at the club.
In his first season in east London, Fabianski made it back-to-back Player of the Season awards, winning Hammer of the Year on his first attempt. Unlike his award at Swansea, though, he did it as part of a very good team. Under Manuel Pellegrini in his first season in charge at West Ham, Fabianski was in good company – both Marko Arnautavic and Felipe Anderson hit double-digit goal tallies, while Declan Rice, Grady Diangana and Issa Diop appeared to be setting solid foundations for a bright future on the way to a comfortable 10th-place finish.
It’s easy to forget how positive that season was given how quickly we reverted to fighting relegation the season after. It was towards the end of that season that Fabianski claimed a famous scalp on route to the Hammer of the Year award, though.
We were winless in four games leading up to a bit of an occasion – our first away game at Tottenham’s new ground. Spurs had already settled in as well as they could’ve imagined, winning on every opportunity except one – a 1-1 draw with Arsenal, meaning no opposition had managed to keep a clean sheet there either.
Fabianski becoming the first opposition goalkeeper to leave with a clean sheet was enough to make West Ham the first team to leave with three points, with Michail Antonio helping out at the other end of the pitch. For a goalkeeper, who was previously nicknamed “Flappyhandski”, that season with West Ham provided undeniable proof that a reputation as a top player was far more appropriate – only Allison and Lloris saved more shots in the Premier League throughout the year.
A difficult year fighting relegation, injury and a global pandemic followed. Manuel Pellegrini was sacked just before the New Year, and David Moyes made his big return having saved West Ham from the drop just 18 months prior. The big stories in goal were David Martin arriving from obscurity to play a blinder against Chelsea in front of his dad, Alvin Martin, and the return of Darren Randolph.
Neither showed the consistency needed to stay up however, and with Fabianski’s calm presence as an integral part of a newly-solid defense, the great escape was complete with eight points from the last four games of the season. Those first two seasons were certainly the most noteworthy in terms of Fabianski’s contribution to the club, but most goalkeepers would’ve been overshadowed by what we’ve experienced as a club in the time since.
A Europa League semi-final run in which newly-signed Alphonse Areola was the goalkeeper for, followed by a Europa Conference League win with the same man in goal. But both were arguably only possible because Fabianski remained such a reliable option in the Premier League.