Vytautas Černiauskas's recent transfer to FC Vaslui made him the latest in a long line of Lithuanian goalkeepers moving abroad, with the country gaining a reputation as a hotbed of shot-stopping talent.
The 21-year-old was recruited by Vaslui after an excellent display for FK Ekranas in their UEFA Champions League second qualifying round first-leg win against HJK Helsinki. "Černiauskas's success has not surprised us," Arvydas Skrupskis, Ekranas assistant coach and a former goalkeeper, told UEFA.com. "We always believed he could do it. It's hard to find a weakness in him."
If eyebrows were raised when Ekranas let him go before the completion of their UEFA Champions League qualifier, understudy Tadas Kauneckas proved the talent pool in that position is deep at Ekranas, even though the team fell short in their second leg at Finland's HJK on 21 July. "The club were prepared for his eventual departure, so both reserve keepers were ready to step in," Skrupskis added.
By swapping Ekranas for Romanian UEFA Europa League entrants Vaslui, Černiauskas is following a similar path to Giedrius Arlauskis. He joined FC Unirea Urziceni from FC Šiauliai in 2008 and quickly displaced the renowned figure of Bogdan Stelea as No1. After performing well in last year's UEFA Champions League group stage, Arlauskis caught the eye again on the European stage last week, helping ten-man Unirea to a 0-0 draw against FC Zenit St. Petersburg.
There are at least 11 other custodians from the small Baltic state playing professionally abroad, and even Lithuania's goalkeeping coach Audrius Ramonas is at a loss to explain the deluge of promising youngsters. "I asked myself where they all came from, but could not find the answer," he said. "The smaller clubs in Lithuania cannot afford goalkeeping coaches. Despite that, however, we have two top-class keepers in Arlauskis and Žydrūnas Karčemarskas, and a number of candidates for the third [national team] spot."
The Lithuanian Football Federation (LFF) national teams director Robertas Tautkus believes there are historical precedents, saying: "I think there is a tradition, there is always someone to look up to and the coaches are doing a good job." Tautkus also pinpointed the four-year spell with the LFF of German goalkeeping coach Klaus Thomforde. "He imparted his knowledge of positioning, technique and the mental side. Our coaches have improved as well."
The talented tyros who forced their way into the first team at several Lithuanian top-flight sides in recent years have not looked back. Černiauskas was among them; Povilas Valinčius was a regular at FK Vėtra before transferring to FK Sūduva; Šiauliai graduate Šarūnas Jurevičius had a spell at APOP / Kinyras Peyias FC in Cyprus; and others are on the radar of clubs across the continent.
Lithuania Under-21 goalkeeping coach Vaclovas Jurkus is excited by such prospects and hopes they can be nurtured properly. "The number of goalkeepers abroad shows we have the talent, but we have to look after them. Every club has to work separately with them. Moving abroad sometimes helps in terms of training, competition and the fact more people notice their performances."
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