Hladky is Town's new penalty king with shades of Bart and plenty of ambition
- Credit: ITFC
Ipswich Town have signed goalkeeper Vlaclav Hladky from Salford City. Andy Warren looks at what the Czech stopper will bring to the Blues.
At 30, Hladky is now just two-and-a-half years into his career in British football but is already on his third club.
He’s clearly a man with ambition.
Born in Brno in Czech Republic, the goalkeeper spent much of his youth career split between the city’s two biggest clubs, Zbrojovka and Sparta, before his big break saw him sign for Slovan Liberec in 2015.
He was back-up there for almost all of his four seasons with the club, who Town faced in the UEFA Cup in the early 2000s, before leaving for St Mirren in 2019.
He was a true hit during his 18 months with the Paisley club for reasons which we’ll come onto, before one season at Salford City proved to be his bridge move into English football which has ultimately seen him secure his move to Town.
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Shades of Bart
Hladky ticks the biggest goalkeeping box of them all, which you expect all those between the sticks to tick. He’s a good shot stopper.
He made 125 saves in League Two last season, only bettered by Crawley veteran Glenn Morris, averaging a little under three per game in a season when he played all 46 matches for his side.
In terms of style, he’s a similar goalkeeper to former Blue Bartosz Bialkowski in as much as his best work comes when springing into action inside the box, crouching low, reacting quickly and using his reflexes to get down to shots and push them away.
Watching Hladky’s highlight reel (which is a little dangerous with goalkeepers but does offer some insight) does remind you of Town’s popular Pole. They are both around 6ft 3inch tall which, while not particularly big for a goalkeeper, is a good height for allowing agile keepers to get down quickly to low shots.
On Hladky’s height, St Mirren boss Jim Goodwin once said: “If he was three or four inches taller he would probably be playing down in the English Premier League. We know we are going to have a job on our hands to hang on to him.”
Making saves is only part of a goalkeeper’s job, though. Where Ipswich have been let down by goalkeepers in recent years is in their commanding of the area and dealing with crosses into the box. The goalkeepers, in fairness, haven’t been helped by the fact the rest of the side have not done a good job at stopping balls being delivered into danger.
The signs are promising in that department, with the Czech able to come through traffic and punch when needed. The proof of the pudding will be in the eating there, though.
Distribution is important too, of course, with the signs promising enough for Hladky. He only misplaced 13 of the 540 short passes played throughout his time at Salford, an accuracy rating of 97.5%, with that figure at 42% when it comes to his long passing. That may sound low but it’s up there with the best in League Two last season.
For comparison purposes, Tomas Holy’s short passing completion rate is nearly identical to Hladky’s, with the new Town keeper’s long-passing success rate significantly higher than Holy’s 37%.
Hladky’s confident with his feet, too, having rushed out of his box and taking clever touches on a number of occasions for Salford.
It’s fair to say Hladky enjoys penalty shootouts.
He was a hit throughout his time at St Mirren and he was never more popular than on May 26, 2019, as his side faced the very real prospect of relegation from the top flight.
The two-legged play-off clash with Dundee United, then looking to win promotion from the Championship, went to penalties where Hladky intervened, saving three of the Terrors’ four efforts as St Mirren survived in dramatic fashion.
Interestingly, his opposite number that day was Benjamin Siegrist, a goalkeeper Town have shown significant interest in this summer.
Speaking immediately after the game Hladky dedicated his display to the memory of his close friend, former Czech Republic striker Josef Sural, who died in a car accident just a month earlier.
Hladky’s intervention had been predicted several weeks earlier by St Mirren goalkeeping coach Jamie Langfield: "With the saves Vaclav is making, it could be him that ends up keeping us up this season,” he said. “In tight games that could be the big difference between a win or a draw, or a draw and a defeat.
“He’s endeared himself to the fans who have taken to him really quickly and already become a bit of a cult hero.”
His shootout exploits continued in England, as the 30-year-old saved from Joe Mattock on his debut to help his side beat Rotherham in a Carabao Cup penalty competition and also saved Portsmouth forward Ronan Curtis’ penalty at Wembley, as Salford won last season’s Papa John’s Trophy on spot kicks.
Away from shootouts, Hladky has faced 19 penalties during his time in Britain, saving three of those, including a stop to deny Olivier Ntcham of Celtic during his time with St Mirren.
He faced four penalties in one game as his side went down 4-0 at Rangers in February 2019, with the Ibrox side scoring three of those and James Tavernier hitting the post with the other on an afternoon where Hladky made a string of excellent saves to keep the score down.
Goodbye my lover
As Hladky’s St Mirren contract ran down last summer, following a ninth-placed finish, it became clear the Czech stopper would soon be moving on.
Qarabag, the Azerbajian giants, had a £200,000 offer turned down before both Rangers and Celtic showed interest in him following 18 excellent months in Scotland. Fortuna Dusseldorf were said to be keen, too.
"Rangers interested me a lot,” Hladky said. “The transfer was really close, we were already talking about the financial terms in the contract.
"But they eventually opted for Scotland player Jon McLaughlin of Sunderland.
"I was sorry it didn't work out because my wife and I really enjoyed it in Glasgow."
And with that it was on to Salford, joining on a free transfer, but not before an emotional goodbye from St Mirren as he posted a montage of his best saves and a farewell message, all set to James Blunt’s ‘Goodbye My Lover’.
Hladky will need to switch his allegiance to Ed Sheeran, now he’s an Ipswich player.
The Class of 2020
Hladky was a free agent for a few weeks before ultimately making the move to Salford, realising a childhood dream in the process as he signed a two-year deal with the club backed by a host of former Manchester United stars.
“English football has always been my big dream so my expectation is huge, so is Salford’s, this is a good start for me and I hope we will be successful together,” he said.
“I have a big target and Salford has big targets as well to get a promotion every year so I will do my best to give the club as best I can, and I hope we will be a success.”
Hladky can certainly be chalked up as a success at the end of his one season at the Peninsula Stadium, even if Salford didn’t achieve their goal of winning promotion to League One.
As well as helping his side win the Trophy at Wembley, the Czech kept a remarkable 22 clean sheets in League Two, winning the division’s golden glove in the process.
“It’s a brilliant achievement for me and for the team as well,” he said. “You can see the support from them all season and I’ve really enjoyed playing this season."
The next chapter
Hladky’s move to Suffolk represents the next step up the ladder for a player who clearly backs his own ability, which has now earned him a crack at League One.
He joins a goalkeeping unit currently containing compatriot Holy, with the new signing almost certain to be at the top of the pecking order when the new season comes around.
More change in the goalkeeping department could yet be on the way this summer. Time will tell.