Chilled-out Penalty Killer
Lukas Hradecky saved five penalties for Eintracht Frankfurt in the German Cup season of 2016/2017, and after one of these, in added time, he said: “I just wanted to go home on time.”
But for Lukas to be able to respond so coolly, a lot of hard work has had to be done. He studies his opponents’ penalty-takers beforehand, and there’s a little luck involved too. He has saved almost a third of the penalties in his career, and usually when it counted most: To keep Frankfurt from being relegated, to get them to the Cup Final, and to secure Bayer Leverkusen a place in the Champions League.
He had to wait almost five years for his chance to be a first-choice keeper after beginning his professional career at the age of 17 in Finland, but his patience paid off. He reached the Europa League with Bröndby IF before moving to Frankfurt. Lukas said at the time that he had always dreamed about the Bundesliga but hadn’t been planning on it. Otherwise he might have ended up at Manchester United, perhaps, as a young player, but this seemed too uncertain to him.
“Lukas is my name, I’m my own man and I go my own way”
That’s what he told the media upon his arrival in Germany, adding: “I was too lazy to run so I became a keeper.”
Wherever he went, expectations were high: In Frankfurt, the Finn followed in the big “glove-prints” of Kevin Trapp, and at Bayer 04 Leverkusen in those of Bernd Leno. But Lukas, who was born in Bratislava and moved to Finland one year later because his father, a volleyball player, had switched to a Finnish club, stayed true to himself and sometimes stopped balls acrobatically with his long, gangly arms and legs – earning himself a place in the hearts of the fans in Frankfurt, and the nickname “Spider”.
One anecdote is a good illustration of how Lukas always wants to help his team: After a jaw operation he trained in a lacrosse helmet for a while in order to get fit again as fast as possible. And when a game is coming up he’s always completely focussed.
The “legendary” Final
He has his own high standards to live up to. One time, this almost backfired: When Lukas arrived in Frankfurt he stated his goal as a place in European competition and nearly ended up getting relegated – had he not stopped the penalty from Darmstadt’s Sandro Wagner.
And two seasons later he made his words come true: In a “legendary” final he helped Eintracht win the German Cup and a place in the Europa League. But he wanted to take the next step and moved to Leverkusen, and after just the first season he’ll be standing in goal for the team in the Champions League. And when the hard work is done and there’s something to celebrate, Finland’s national goalkeeper will be there.
Sayings like “three points yesterday, three beers today” have made him a favourite with the fans, because the man with a talent for languages is still down-to-earth just like them in spite of all the excitement.