It was Christmas Eve, 2002, and for Rami Shaaban, everything was perfect.
Only six months before he was sitting on the seat for Swedish first division side Djurgardens, but he had been a part of Arsene Wenger’s Arsenal squad and had only kept clean sheets in the Champions League along with the north London derby.
His mother, Tuula, had flown into England to celebrate his first Christmas in London – all that was left was to finish one last training session before the festivities could begin.
But in the space of a few moments, everything changed.
“There was this huge bang,” Shaaban remembered, speaking exclusively to Goal. “It seemed like a shin pad had busted or something.”
However, it was not a shin pad which had snapped, it was Shaaban’s right leg.
“It is not surprising maybe it was him but he was on my team.
“Dennis [Bergkamp] attempted to rob me, I moved backward and tipped the ball on the bottom of the bar and as I had been on the floor, I tried to kick it away with my foot and at exactly the exact same time Martin tried to clean it, but he removed my leg instead.
“I did not feel any immediate pain and I saw Martin strolling around, so I thought to myself, what was that? Then after a couple of seconds, I began to feel my entire leg go numb, like when you sleep on your arm.
“I then saw my players running to me and I saw their faces, they went light because they could see my leg was completely disconnected.
“I remember that my mum was in London since we were planning to celebrate Christmas that day. I called her out of the ambulance and told her I’d broken my leg and she thought I was joking. I had to inform her like 10 times.”
Shaaban would not play for Arsenal again then injury.
A move that had originally promised so much, ended with a sense of missed opportunity – however, the 2 years that he spent with the Gunners still hold fond memories for the Swede.
Wenger signed Shaaban in the summer of 2002, prior to the end of the summer transfer window.
It was a move that came about from the blue given only a couple weeks earlier, he had not been a regular starter for Djurgardens.
“I had been on the bench before the middle of July.
“However, our first choice keeper was at the 2002 World Cup squad and if he came back he was not in great shape, so the manager put me and from there it took off.
“Remember we are talking about mid-July and just over a month after I’d signed for Arsenal. That shows how quickly things happen sometimes.”
Shaaban was invited to get a trial and spent two weeks at London Colney, training together with David Seaman and Stuart Taylor on day one before linking up with the Under-21s on the next day of his stay.
Then he returned to Sweden to await Arsenal’s decision.
“A couple of days later my attorney called and said it had been between me and the Argentinian keeper, Carlos Roa,” said Shaaban. “We had been in the last week of the transfer window which was the toughest week of my career.
“One day it seemed like it’d be a bargain, then the next day that the deal was off because Arsenal did not want to cover what my club was asking for.
“It went back and forth and finally they agreed. I had to give up some cash to my team too because my contract said I’d get 10 percent, but I said I needed to give it up if there was going to be a bargain.”
Two months after registering, Shaaban made his debut keeping a clean sheet as Arsenal drew 0-0 with PSV from the Champions League.
“The match was hostile, but it was more aggressive in the stands than on the pitch,” said Shaaban. “I went on the pitch knowing that it’d be a match I’d always remember. I just wanted to enjoy it, I felt so blessed to get the opportunity to play.
“Even in the tunnel, it felt like we’d won the match before it began. We were so high on optimism and it felt like Spurs were weak in the knees – you can almost touch the atmosphere in the air.
Shaaban goes on to start three more games before being struck down by injury – like the 3-1 win at Roma from the Champions League when Henry stunned the Italian side with a hat-trick.
However, what happened on Christmas Eve stopped his career in its tracks and if he did return from his rehab, everything had changed.
“You can not imagine how different it was,” Shaaban said.
“Jens was so aggressive and there is nothing wrong with being aggressive. I didn’t mind that and Jens was honest also. When he got mad, it did not matter if it was a youth participant or Sol Campbell – they got something.
And you heard it quite well! You had to deal with it and I did not take it personally because he was like that with everybody.
Shaaban added: “The one thing I had an issue with is that as a goalkeeping coach, your objective is to keep everyone happy and have a fantastic feeling and I think that was what let Gerry down a little.
“His training was really great, but if it came to people, he was not that good. That is where I had an issue. This was the only hard part that year.”
After returning to fitness, Shaaban did not feature once throughout the Invincibles season, with Lehmann playing each and every moment in the Premier League, Champions League and FA Cup campaigns.
He went on to start for Sweden in their opening World Cup game against Trinidad and Tobago at Germany after that year, something which he’ll always hold dear.
However, the two years he spent in north London stay in his heart, although his stay was radically changed by that freak training ground accident on Christmas Eve, 2002.
“My time at Arsenal is up with all the World Cup match I had,” he said. “The clean sheet in my introduction, the Tottenham game, winning in Rome at the Champions League.
“And even though I did not play a single minute in the Invincibles season, I was on the seat and involved. Those are memories that will be with me my entire life.”