Bayer Leverkusen goalkeeper Lukas Hradecky has caught the eye with an impressive tournament debut for Finland at UEFA Euro 2020.
Here, bundesliga.com trains its spotlight on the 31-year-old making a splash at this summer's European championship...
Club: Bayer Leverkusen
Country: Finland (64 caps)
Born 24 November 1989 in Slovakia's capital of Bratislava, Hradecky journeyed to Finland as a one-year-old, before emerging through the academy of eight-time champions Turun Palloseura. Hradecky left Finland without featuring in the top-flight, and moved to Swedish outfit Esbjerg fB in January 2009.
Despite supporting Slovakia when it comes to ice hockey, Hradecky opted to represent Finland as a footballer and having represented the country 29 times in youth internationals, he made his senior debut for the Huuhkajat - or Eagle Owls - against Estonia in 2010. He now has 64 caps and counting for Finland and saved a penalty in their 1-0 win over Denmark at Euro 2020 - the country's debut in the competition.
Having been watched by scouts at English Premier League outfit Manchester United, Hradecky went on a week-long trial at Old Trafford but refused the opportunity to pursue a permanent deal in order to get more game time in Sweden. It was a bold move, but the young stopper began to establish himself and kept 13 clean sheets, while conceding just 19 times in 25 matches as he helped Esbjerg gain top-flight promotion in 2011/12.
A year later, Hradecky's three clean sheets in three matches - including the 1-0 win over Randers FC in the final - ensured he and his teammates got their hands on the Swedish cup and with his status firmly established as the best goalie in the country, Danish side Brondby came calling in the summer of 2013.
After two seasons in the Danish Superliga, Die Adler made their move ahead of the 2015/16 season, in what was a fitting transfer to Eintracht Frankfurt as the Eagle Owl became an Eagle. Frankfurt narrowly lost out on DFB Cup glory that year - the first of three German cup finals to feature the Finn - but they made up for it in 2016/17 as Hradecky's cup prowess again shone through, making four penalty saves across three shootouts en route to a 3-1 win over Bayern Munich in the showpiece.
Following three seasons and 116 appearances for Frankfurt, Hradecky signed for Leverkusen where he has since featured 127 times in all competitions. In total, Hradecky - who was named in goal in the 2017/18 Bundesliga FIFA 18 Team of the Season - has 196 games and 54 clean sheets to his name in the German top-flight.
Plays a bit like: Jerzy Dudek
They say goalkeepers are a different breed and both Dudek and Hradecky are as unique in personality as they are wonderful in goal. Standing at slim 6'1" and 6'3" heights respectively, neither Dudek nor Hradecky boast the most intimidating of frames but, like his Polish predecessor, the Finn is a master shot-stopper.
Their outgoing personalities also bear similarities, and Hradecky is one of the most loved players in the Finland national set-up. In 2018, while celebrating a 2-0 win over Belarus, Hradecky was slapping hands with fans behind the goal when he spotted one of them holding a beer. He quickly grabbed it and even more rapidly saw it off. A few weeks later, Hradecky repaid the supporter for his loss, sending him a 24-pack and tweeting: “The debt is paid.”
Did you know?
Hradecky kept a clean sheet against record champions Bayern with one eye in December 2019. Having lost his contact lens in the first-half, Hradecky was peering out the other as he looked to deny the likes of Robert Lewandowski and Thomas Müller. Hradecky did just that, making 10 saves across the game to seal a 1-0 victory for Leverkusen.
What they're saying
"I lost my contact lens in the first half and I hardly saw anything for 20 minutes before the break, so I tried to play against Bayern with one eye!" - Hradecky on his one-eyed heroics against Bayern
"He’s also part of the leadership group. He’s a really humorous character, an unbelievable character and both a good goalkeeper and shot stopper." - Finland captain Tim Sparv on Hradecky the goalkeeper, and person
"I didn't like the way British clubs worked with their academy teams. And I didn’t really like that atmosphere there. I don’t mean it in any bad way, but I just didn’t see myself [playing at Manchester United]. So I ended up rejecting the offer." - Hradecky on turning down Man Utd
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