‘Marcin Bulka was instrumental in Chelsea’s success this season, keeping an impressive 28 clean sheets in the Premier League.’ – My Chelsea save, Season 2022-23, Football Manager 2018
In recent history, Chelsea have a habit of being bashed left, right and centre for their transfer policy. True, there are some absolute diamonds – N’Golo Kante, Cesar Azpilicueta and Mateo Kovacic spring to mind – but there is a pervasive feeling with a number of positions that the club could actually look inwardly to solve these problems. Although that is happening under Frank Lampard, the same cannot be said under Maurizio Sarri. I’m going to contend that an early Sarri selection decision and a world record transfer are to blame for Marcin Bułka leaving our cash-rich London club and joining… a cash-rich Parisian club.
Blame is perhaps the wrong word. We aren’t lucky enough to be privy to the behind-the-scenes goings-on every single week at Cobham. But when Kepa Arrizabalaga was signed for an eye-watering £72m on 8th August 2019, I couldn’t help but wonder why. Marcin Bulka was the reason behind these pervasive thoughts. He seemed a huge talent, in a tough to fill position – so why 18 months later has he only managed one senior appearance?
Tracing back the start of Marcin Bułka’s career proved to be difficult. He cut his cloth in his native Poland, at Stegny-Wyszogrod. Apparently he didn’t specialise in goal all the time, and even scored once for the club. From there, he moved to MDK Król Maciuś Club Płock before winding up at Barcelona’s satellite club, FCB Escola Varsovia. Around this time, Barcelona were under investigation for allegations involving the transfers of minors (it’s good to see we aren’t the only club breaking that law) and despite a trial with the Blaugranes, Bułka chose to swap Poland for England in Summer 2016. The deal went under the radar as Chelsea embarked on a spending spree in Antonio Conte’s first season, but by many in the background, it was considered a coup. Bułka stood at an imposing height and already had experience playing with older and streetwise players, who looked at a young goalkeeper as a target for stray elbows. That said, Bułka most certainly could hold his own when required. A pro deal with the club followed, before a debut in U18 Football – a London derby see-saw against Arsenal which ended in a 4-2 win. Bułka had limited minutes that season and kept one clean sheet in 5 appearances.
Although Bułka had navigated himself away from Poland, the selector’s eyes for the national team were still firmly fixated on him. Alongside Kamil Grabara, who ironically would end up at Liverpool, they were viewed as the great goalkeeping hopes for the nation in the future, once the likes of Lukas Fabianski and Wojciech Szczęsny retired. Bułka debuted for Biało-czerwoni’s U18s in March 2017 and impressed enough to be catapulted up to U19 level in May of the same year. Despite being just 16, the precocious talent of Bułka was clear. However, at Chelsea, rumours of Thibaut Courtois leaving had died down and instead, it seemed David De Gea was the apple of Real Madrid’s eye once again.
The 17/18 season alerted the wider footballing world to Bulka’s talents. Although he only featured twice on the bench as Chelsea strolled to another FA Youth Cup (the normality for the past decade), he was an important feature of Chelsea’s charge to the UEFA Youth League final, although, again he did not feature in the final as Chelsea were crushed by Bułka’s old woo-ers Barcelona. Jamie Cumming got the nod over Bułka after his Semi-Final penalty heroics – Bułka now doubt wondered if the outcome would be different if he had played. In all, Bułka kept 6 clean sheets in 30 appearances in all competitions, amassing nearly 2,000 minutes in total.
Bułka still had several years on his contract, but there was very little noise about renewing it. Had the club acted too late? At the same time, Thibaut Courtois looked like he was going to be on his way out, determined to join Real Madrid to see his children more regularly. Could a shot at the number one jersey be arriving sooner than expected? Even more incredulously, would Marcin Bułka, amongst all the names staking a claim to become the first starting XI regular from the Cobham academy since John Terry?
A Promising Glimpse
The pre-season friendly between Chelsea and Arsenal in August 2018 was not particularly memorable for most. It offered an eerily familiar foreshadowing for the mid-part of Maurizio Sarri’s reign as Chelsea manager. Chelsea started well, taking the lead and controlling possession through Jorginho and Fabregas. Morata missed a number of big chances and fluffed a penalty. A lot of possession, but little to show for it. The second half showed a marked change in the team, a surprise tiredness as Arsenal took hold. Enter Marcin Bulka on the 77th minute. Arsenal equalised through Alex Lacazette in the 90+3’ before winning 6-5 on penalties. This wasn’t Bulka’s fault, and he actually made several decent saves before Lacazette notched his goal. But, it did offer a glimpse of his athleticism. Despite being 6ft 6’, he had a very sturdy frame and commanded authority at crosses. His distribution was impressive and his reflexes were very sharp. He also wasn’t afraid to let rip when required, unleashing a torrent of expletives at the defenders when they failed to close down. For a fifteen minute cameo, it was very impressive. With Courtois on his way out, was Bułka going to get a chance?
Swapping Superpower for Superpower
The Community Shield, less than a week after the Arsenal match suddenly looked like an important waymark in Bułka’s future. Fans were expectant at the prospect of seeing the young Pole again. Fate did not align with Marcin Bułka, however, and Sarri picked the experienced ex-Manchester City keeper Willy Caballero against his former club. Even with the myriad of substitutes available, and the fact it was little more than an enhanced friendly, Marcin Bułka remained on the Wembley bench.
A few days later, and Chelsea sold Courtois to Real Madrid, replacing him with Athletic Club’s Kepa Arrizabalaga, smashing the world-record fee for a goalkeeper in the process. Bułka saw this as a vote of no confidence and despite rumours of a deal coming to pass, he left one summer later to Paris Saint-Germain on a free transfer. Fans weren’t convinced about Alphonse Areola, and Gigi Buffon was retiring soon. Bułka was viewed as a coup by the PSG hierarchy, who were aware of his standings in youth football. His PSG career started well, with a clean sheet on debut against FC Metz on 30th August. That being his only appearance so far, it’s fair to say things haven’t gone according to plan for Bulka. Swapping one bench for another…
Written By: StabilityFC
Edited by Martell Dublin