The goalkeeping fraternity class themselves as a union but no position is more dog-eat-dog. Felix Wiedwald was reminded of that when Werder Bremen pulled the carpet from under him in June by signing Jiri Pavlenka from Slavia Prague.
What goes around comes around and in moving to Leeds United, Wiedwald did the same to Rob Green, displacing a keeper who for 12 months was as established as keepers get. Four games into the new season, it is apparent that the German is top of the tree at Elland Road after a summer in which Thomas Christiansen’s choice of number one was up for debate.
Wiedwald’s £500,000 transfer to Leeds took him out of Germany for the first time since he turned professional with Bremen, providing what he called “the next step in my career” after six years of regular appearances in the Bundesliga and Bundesliga 2.
His games for Bremen last season earned him an appearance-related contract extension and in May, Wiedwald spoke to the German media about the possibility of negotiating a longer deal. Little over a month later, Bremen finalised terms to sign Pavlenka and brought him in from the Czech Republic, pushing Wiedwald to one side.
“It was not my plan (to leave Bremen),” Wiedwald said, “but you cannot plan everything. Football is a quick game and sometimes you have to take quick decisions. The offer from Leeds came and I was happy to get the offer, to do the next step in my career. It’s nice to be here.
“It’s always a big move to move away from your own country. There’s a different language and a different style of play but everyone can improve themselves by moving to another country, learning a new culture and new football. It’s a new step.”
Between Bremen, Eintracht Frankfurt and MSV Duisburg, Wiedwald played in more than 100 senior matches. Aged 27, he was usurping Green with a track record behind him but nonetheless replacing a keeper who stood out as one of the safest in the Championship during the second half of last season.
Green, who turns 38 in January and has less than a year on his contract, is still wanted by Leeds, despite the suspicion that the former England international would be reluctant to while away one of his few remaining seasons as a professional on the bench. Christiansen said he wanted Green to “fight and compete” with Wiedwald and Wiedwald himself has valued the competition.
“It’s always hard to be number one but everyone needs competition to improve and to be better,” Wiedwald said. “I like the competition here.
“We have a professional relationship, both of us. We help each other and it’s important that we are a team. I can learn something from him, maybe he can learn something from me. There’s big competition but I’m very happy to be first choice.”
Wiedwald insisted he did not feel under pressure to justify Christiansen’s decision to elevate him above Green. “No, not really,” he said. “I believe in myself and I had a good season as well last year. I know what I can do, what I can achieve and I did hard work in pre-season. I’m happy to be number one now.”
There is a feeling that in Christiansen’s mind, Wiedwald’s style and distribution suits the way United’s head coach wants Leeds to play. Wiedwald, still, came to England knowing that the game here and the various contrasts with Germany would require him to learn and adapt.
“There’s more direct play,” he said. “Most teams want to play direct to the striker. The referee doesn’t whistle so often and it’s more difficult for a goalkeeper.
“A couple of teams try to play football but there’s more tackling, it’s more physical. But I like it.”
Fulham, who earned a goalless draw from Elland Road on Tuesday, play more than most in United’s division and their attacking verve brought out the best of Wiedwald so far. The keeper had gone through league games against Bolton and Preston and a League Cup win over Port Vale without much in the way of a genuine save to make but he maintained parity in the second half against Fulham with a strong, one-handed block as Sone Aluko sprinted clear of Leeds defence.
“It’s important for me and the team that they can see I’m strong and I’ll improve us,” Wiedwald said.
“We’ve done two clean sheets (in the last two games) and it’s difficult to beat us if we are strong like we have been. I’m happy with my role and I’m looking for more clean sheets.
“In my first game (a 3-2 win at Bolton) I was a little bit nervous. It was a new country, a new start, a new team and a different type of play. But in the second and third game, I’m in and I’ve had two clean sheets in a row. This is what you need and what everyone expects.”
Wiedwald is still holed up in a hotel and waiting to find himself permanent accommodation in Leeds. He said he prepared for his move to England by soaking up footage of the club and the atmosphere at Elland Road on YouTube.
He and the club’s other new signings have settled quickly, starting the season with a four-game unbeaten run. Leeds will try to stretch that sequence to five this evening, against a Sunderland team about whom stories of in-house crises appear to be exaggerated. Simon Grayson, like Christiansen, has started his reign as manager with a five-point haul.
“Fulham was a big game and now we have Sunderland,” Wiedwald said. “But there are a lot of big games in the Championship. I think 10 or 12 teams want to go up. It’s a tough league.
“Last year the club almost got to the play-offs. This year we want to achieve the play-offs. It’s what everybody wants and it’s what the fans expect.”