Newcastle United goalkeeper Martin Dubravka was an unknown quantity in English football when he joined the Magpies on loan from Sparta Prague in January 2018, halfway through a tough first season back in the Premier League.
Yet the Slovakian international quickly established himself as a key player with his performances, helping his new team pull away from the relegation battle brewing just beneath them and ultimately to an impressive top half finish.
Dubravka was recognised at the end of 2018 as the North East Football Writers’ Association Player of the Year and he hasn’t missed a single minute of Premier League action since his Newcastle debut, which is now close to two-and-a-half years ago.
Here, he tells 90min what it means to play for Newcastle, his best moment since joining the club, how he sees the impending Saudi Arabian takeover, his opinion on the best goalkeeper in the world, which teammates he would have in his dream five-a-side team and more…
Dubravka on What it Means to Play for Newcastle
“At Newcastle, you feel part of the history,” Dubravka said. “You realise you are at one of the biggest clubs in England. Since my arrival, everyone has been friendly to me, very open to talk, and I had the opportunity to meet Alan Shearer. It is a fantastic environment; I feel like so lucky.”
Having had his initial loan made permanent at the end of the 2017/18 campaign, Dubravka explained winning the 2018 North East Football Writers’ Association Player of the Year award a few months after that also served to forge a great affinity with the club.
“It was a great honour,” he said. “To be honest I didn’t expect that because it was my first season at the club. I could not believe it. Finally, I got some recognition after sacrificing [in my life] so much to be in that position. It was incredible and has strengthened my relationship with Newcastle.”
Dubravka on His Best Moment at Newcastle
Dubravka has particularly fond memories of his Newcastle debut against Manchester United at St James’ Park. The Magpies hadn’t won at home for nearly four months, while the visitors were second in the Premier League and had been most of the season.
Far from overawed, he put in a man of the match performance as Newcastle won 1-0.
“I have to mention my debut against Manchester United. It was my very first game and we won against one of the biggest teams in the world…and with a clean sheet,” he recalled.
“I had so much work to do during the game and after that my career took off in England. I probably introduced myself the best way possible.”
Dubravka on the Saudi Takeover
“We still don’t know what is going to happen or not, and what kind of ambitions the new owners will have,” Dubravka explained as he discussed the start of a new chapter for the club.
“We have to wait until they finalise this process, but we’ll see what kind of players they can get. I have seen in the newspapers all kind of names, with the journalists speculating about players like Neymar or Kylian Mbappé. Which would be obviously incredible. We’ll see.”
Dubravka on Allan Saint-Maximin
French club Nice were once interested in signing Dubravka when he was plying his trade in Denmark football with Esbjerg. Had things worked out differently he might have ended up playing with current Newcastle teammate Allan Saint-Maximin even sooner than he has done in reality.
“He is a fantastic player! Plus he is a nice lad as well,” Dubravka said of the winger, who has quickly developed into a Newcastle fan favourite since arriving last year.
“He is always in a positive mood and I am happy to see him everyday at the training ground. He is extraordinary and you can see it on the pitch. He has been very good with us since the beginning and has an incredible potential.
“I really hope that he will continue to deliver such performances and I would say that he has a big future in front of him.
“We have really talented players with great skills, but he is on top, really. He is very fast, it’s impossible to catch him [laughs]. If he has already started to accelerate you are done. Now he can prove himself on the biggest stage [the Premier League] and people can see he is a rising star.”
Dubravka on His Dream 5-a-side Team
Despite glowing reviews, there is no room, not yet anyway, for Saint-Maximin in Dubravka’s dream six-a-side team of players he has played with during his career.
“Obviously I am going to put myself as the goalie, because I want to play with them,” he began.
“In defence I would pick Fabian Schar, with whom I have a good connection. Next to him I would probably put Milan Skriniar. We play together in the [Slovakian] national team and I have seen his progression. Now he is one of the best.
“In midfield I would have another teammate from the national team: Marek Hamsik. He is our captain and a great leader. I could have also chosen Jonjo Shelvey. You can clearly see he is an influential player when he is on the pitch, very quick thinking and with amazing pass precision.
“Finally, for the striker I would probably pick Salomon Rondon. We played half a season together. A very big and powerful lad who brought so many important points to Newcastle.”
Dubravka on What Makes a Great Goalkeeper & the Best in the World
Asked for his opinion on the best goalkeeper in the world, Dubravka couldn’t name only one.
“There are so many great goalkeepers right now,” he said. “I have to mention Alisson, who is fantastic. But also, in my eyes, Jan Oblak and Marc-Andre Ter Stegen at the moment, and David de Gea in the long term with his incredible agility.
“I also have to mention Iker Casillas and Petr Cech who inspired me throughout my career.”
On his own ability, the 31-year said, “I never see myself as the best goalkeeper in the world, but I am obviously trying my best to up there and enjoy my time on the pitch.
“In the Premier League you are always comparing yourself and competing against the best players in the world so I am glad I have this opportunity to compete with them, play in the best league in the world and with a great team.”
As with all modern goalkeepers at the highest level, Dubravka knows only too well the growing focus on possession and ball retention, going beyond just being a shot stopper.
“I have these kinds of skills because I played indoor football when I was younger so you have to make quick decisions,” he said. “At training we have some kind of drills where I can play outfield. It’s not that often but I can improve my skills.
“This is modern football…the best goalies are fantastic with their feet. Your defenders have to see that you are confident with the ball.”
I have to mention Alisson, who is fantastic. But also an Oblak, Marc-Andre Ter Stegen and David de Gea.
Dubravka on the Best Strikers He’s Faced
“It’s difficult to pick one,” was Dubravka’s response.
“In the Premier League you have so many quality players. I can mention Sergio Aguero, Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane, who are fantastic football players. I also played against Wayne Rooney.”
When it comes to the best teams that he has faced this season, there is another high-flying club alongside the two most obvious choices.
“It is always difficult to play against Manchester City even if we had a great result and played a great game [against them], he explained, referring a 2-2 draw against the current champions in November.
“Or Liverpool of course,” the Newcastle number one added. “But also Leicester who have a different system and like to play offensive football.”
It is understandable when the Foxes have put eight goals past him in two games in 2019/20.
Dubravka on Switching to Football From Ice Hockey
Dubravka originally grew up playing ice hockey back home in Slovakia, but it was ultimately an injury that saw him switch his attention more to football instead.
“I was a hockey player when I was very young,” he recalled.
“The sport is as popular as football in Slovakia. Though, at one moment I got injured and started to focus on football, which was eventually the best decision. I have good skating skills but I don’t know if I would have been a good hockey player.
“Football was natural because my father and grandfather were goalkeepers, so I followed in their footsteps.”