Awkward moments, makeshift goalposts and hailed by ex-Leeds United boss: The making of Sheffield United's latest star, Kacper Lopata
As a young boy growing up in Krakow, Poland, Kacper Lopata’s introduction to football was an inauspicious one.
Lopata’s uncle organised football games for local kids in a field owned by the now-Sheffield United youngster’s grandfather, with crudely put-together goalposts and temporary nets. Lopata pleaded to play, but cried once when he was hit by the ball.
He has grown up since, mentally and physically. Now standing at around six foot four at just 19 years of age, he is also a senior debutant after making his Blades bow in their 1-0 EFL Cup win over Carlisle United on Tuesday evening.
Lopata could easily have marked his debut with a goal, seeing a bullet header saved well by Carlisle goalkeeper Lukas Jensen, and was impressive at both ends of the pitch. So much so that some supporters are clamoruing for him to remain in Slavisa Jokanović’s squad for the rest of the Championship season, starting with this weekend’s trip to Swansea.
United fans had a brief glimpse of the Pole in pre-season, when he was included in the Blades party which travelled to Spain and also appeared as a second-half substitute away at Doncaster Rovers.
Lopata signed for the Blades after his contract at Premier League side Brighton and Hove Albion expired. There was interest from Leicester City, while Middlesbrough made a late play. But after a few days training with United, under former manager Chris Wilder, Lopata’s mind was made up. He signed a three-year deal in the Steel City.
Wilder was impressed by Lopata’s communication in those early training sessions, especially for a young player new to the club. Lopata moved to England at 11 years old – in an interview with Angielskie Espresso, he admitted they were many “awkward situations” at school as he got to grips with English, and was helped by a Polish girl in his class – and studied a BTEC level three in sport at South Gloucestershire and Stroud college before being scouted by Brighton.
At SGS, he was converted into a centre-half by Dave Hockaday, the former Leeds United boss now working as the college’s head coach.
“Our culture is based around ‘hunger and belief’ and Kacper came to SGS with an insatiable appetite to be the best that he could be,” Hockaday said.
“With his incredible work ethic, we were able to build on his belief system to such an extent that he now knows or believes that he is good enough to play at a very high level.
“He has humility in abundance and a fire burning in his stomach to reach for the stars. Everything this young man achieves he earns and fully deserves.
“As a coach I cannot be prouder of this young player and I am fully expecting more success stories about Kacper. He is a credit to himself, his family and to SGS.”
Lopata played for United’s U23s as they won their Professional Development League title last season and was one of five debutants on Tuesday evening.
The match and result may be quickly forgotten by many. But for this young man, who cut his teeth in his grandad’s field thousands of miles away, the memories will likely last a lifetime.