Hard work paying off for goalkeeper Leeds United goalkeeper Felix Wiedwald
SELLING Felix Wiedwald has not done much for Werder Bremen. The club are scrambling to fend off relegation from the Bundesliga and Alex Nouri, the coach who moved him on in June, was sacked by Bremen's board in October. It might be that Wiedwald got out at the right time, albeit while having his hand forced.
English football has been far from plain sailing for the German but for all the attention on his goalkeeping and influence, he still has Leeds United on his side. Bremen gave the opposite impression by signing Jiri Pavlenka from Slavia Prague days before Wiedwald read the writing on the wall and left for England but Leeds are standing by their belief that the 27-year-old is what they need. There is, as yet, no sign of any movement to sign a replacement in the January transfer window.
The club’s confidence in him has been helped by the fact that his return to their line-up after a seven-game absence has coincided with a sharp change in form. Wiedwald took criticism for obvious errors, like his misjudgement of a bouncing ball away at Queens Park Rangers, and his dominance of the penalty area but the numbers are in his favour: 15 league appearances, nine wins, three losses and eight clean sheets. As Thomas Christiansen said last week, there are few keepers with better records in the Championship.
Despite that, Christiansen dropped Wiedwald in October and dropped him quickly after an indecisive performance against Sheffield Wednesday. Leeds were beaten 3-0 at Hillsborough and between them, Wiedwald and his defence lost all of the composure which had taken the club to the top of the Championship a few weeks earlier.
The German was philosophical about Christiansen’s decision. “I needed a little bit of time to settle in so the first weeks were very nice,” he said. “I kept six clean sheets in a row and then the coach dropped me.
“But I worked very hard in training, I practiced more to improve my game and now I’m back. We have a good run now, a big run. In the last four games we’ve taken 10 points which is very important.”
Wiedwald is aware of scrutiny on him but said he was trying to keep it at arm’s length. His blunder at QPR, where an injury-time hoof from Pawel Wszolek was allowed to threaten what should have been a simple Leeds win, was followed by a crucial save seconds later and Wiedwald stood firm in last weekend’s 1-0 victory over Norwich City, twice denying Alex Pritchard in the second half.
“I don’t really read the newspapers,” he said. “Last week I made a big mistake but now in the last game I did very well with the saves. This is the job of a goalkeeper. It’s always up and down.
“If I was a striker and three times I miss the target and then I hit the target one time, I’m the hero. If a goalkeeper makes a mistake it’s always a goal.”
The acquisition of Wiedwald in any case was about more than conventional goalkeeping. Leeds liked his inherently German style of distribution and believed it would serve the football Christiansen intended to play. Wiedwald’s pass completion rate is over 60 per cent – Wolverhampton Wanderers’ John Ruddy is down around 50 – and Christiansen’s decision to replace him with Andy Lonergan in October did not have any significant impact.
Wiedwald said the commitment to passing out from the back had been thorough this season.
“We’re doing this during the week and practicing it during the whole week,” he said. “We want this type of football, not every time to play the long ball.
“We want to play from behind so I have to work on it and I have to practice. I train hard. It’s very important for the team.”
He blamed his mistake against QPR on a loss of concentration, at a time when the game was beyond the 90th minute and apparently won. Leeds were 2-0 to the good and dominating a Rangers side who had barely threatened a fightback.
“Of course I have to be focused until the end of the game,” he said. “The last mistake was after 90 minutes but the last game (against Norwich) went very well. The whole team played well. I demand the game from my last game and I have to continue that work.
“I just had to make a couple of saves – two or three, but it’s very nice to be back.”
Christiansen was pleased about that too and it would suit United’s head coach to avoid another change of keeper next month; a third attempt to fill that position in less than six months. Aside from the blunder at QPR, Wiedwald’s only other concession in the past four games was a pinpoint finish from Henri Lansbury which flew in off a post and earned Aston Villa a 1-1 draw at Elland Road. Leeds host Hull City this weekend with the incentive of knowing that a win will elevate them into a play-off position again.
“In the last four games we’ve got 10 points so we want to continue that and we want to take another three points against Hull,” Wiedwald said.
“We have a lot of games in front of us and a big run. We have to continue this to get to the play-off places.”