Poland has seen its fair share of top players slip through the international net. You only have to look as far as Germany to see what could have been. One man is trying to change all that. A fascinating interview from Michal Zachodny.
Leo Beenhakker said that Poland has some great talents and it is up to us in Poland to raise them properly and make them stars.
Many believe he is right, but the Polish Football Association is doing nothing to make the system any better, or at least create one. Down the years, Poland have lost talented players not only in our country, but also abroad. You will know them – Lukas Podolski is a great German player, who probably knows the Polish anthem better than the one of his national team. Miroslav Klose is another striker in Loew’s team, while we must also mention Piotr Trochowski. Laurent Koscielny lately saw his chances to make it in the French national squad rejecting a Polish approach.
In Poland, we all thought that this will never end, but then an idea came to Maciej Chorążyk.
Meet the man who convinced Ludovic Obraniak (Lille), Sebastian Boenisch (Werder Bremen) and Adam Matuszczyk (1. FC Köln) to play under the Polish flag. Meet the man who invented scouting for the Polish Football Association.
Let’s start your story about creating a scouting section in the Polish FA. How did you convince people of your plan for searching for Polish born players abroad? I bet it wasn’t easy…
The Polish FA is not a federation that closes its doors to such projects. People believe so but it is only a stereotype. With my idea I went to Mr Jerzy Engel three years ago, he caught it straight away and in a blink of an eye, I was presenting it to the Training Department. The coaches and lecturers sitting there accepted my plan unanimously. I’m not saying it was great from the start – I was working for free in the first year of the project. Then they started to refund my phone bills. Meanwhile, I found scouts abroad who, to common disappointment, were and are working for free. I’m trying to change this but my section has no budget and for this moment, there is no hope that we will get one soon.
If you could compare the moment you started your scouting project with the Polish FA to the current situation, what conclusions would you draw?
That even with my great effort, positive reception from the media and our football community, people working for us are still working for free, they don’t even get a refund on their phone bills or the scouting trips they have to make. I’ll fight for this. The good thing is that we have several hundred young Polish players playing abroad. We have four players that made their debut for the national team (Sebastian Boenisch, Ludovic Obraniak, Adam Matuszczyk and Sebastian Tyrała (VfL Osnabrück) and also one in our female team (Marlena Kowalik from Essen).
Don’t you think that the biggest problem is the mentality of coaches in Poland who often have to say a lot about the Polish ‘identity’ of players abroad?
That changes. I have great contact with Michał Globisz (U19 national team coach) who always gives the chance to players born or raised abroad. Young coaches, Marcin Dorna (U16, U17) and Robert Wójcik (U15) are also willing to use players scouted by my section. Coach Andrzej Zamilski (U21) called up Adam Matuszczyk and then recommended him to the first team. Those players are very useful and every coach with vision for his team can see it clearly.
What would be full happiness for you? If more than half of our national team, for one of the most important games at one or other tournament, was a result of your scouting section?
I will surprise You, I don’t have such ambitions. I even think that it would be a bit sick. The national team must keep its identity. Two or three players are, for me, the maximum amount. Great opportunities like Ludovic Obraniak happen once in five years. Will Matuszczyk or Boenisch settle in the Polish national team? I would love it to be like that, but it could never happen in favor of our Polish-born talents. The quality of players born or raised abroad that come into our national team must add to the uniqueness of this squad and have to keep the Polish style and temperament.
Don’t you think that the need for your section is another argument for the weaknesses of our training system in Poland? Do you have other ideas for the development of your section in the Polish FA?
For many years, many things were neglected in terms of training. At fault is clearly a lack of money and the low salaries of coaches. We have those with talent. For example, Marcin Dorna is just in his thirties but he manages two national teams. The Under-16 team under his management has great record of nine wins, four draws and one loss; they beat Germany, Wales and Switzerland. That proves that we have enough talent at this age. Young Poles are capable of playing like equals with the best teams. The milestone for our training system is the project of Orlik (building 6-a-side artificial pitches; there are already thousands of them in Poland). Even now coaches are telling us that they are seeing a bigger interest within kids and teenagers in football. This will increase the number of people playing football and the quality will also rise with it. The bigger chance is to find a talent from 40,000 kids rather than from 10,000.
Do coaches turn to you when they see a certain weakness in their team, let’s say at left-back position, and ask you to find them a player abroad that will play there?
It happens. In those situations I contact scouts and we try to help them. However, more often we find a good player and then assess how he fits in with the national team. For example, players in Germany are taught to play at different positions and it happens that a youngster plays as a striker for his club but has a left-back role while representing Poland. And it turns out good for both, the team and player.
I’ve read that not so long ago you travelled Europe with couple of scarves and t-shirts or replica shirts of the Polish national team, giving them to the players willing to play for Poland. Are you still doing so? Did anyone refuse to take gifts?
No, who would not take gifts in the Polish national team colors?! It did not happen and it won’t, ever, I guarantee. When I meet with players, I already know to whom I’m travelling. I talk to him or her earlier with his or her parents. Such meetings are more a show of interest, not bribing the player or his family. The Polish FA gives me such interesting gift-packs, with badges, ties, wallets, shirts, pen-drives and it’s a nice accent, an addition to our meeting, shows our interest and respect for players. And it has great meaning for the psyche of players that have never been to Poland. Sometimes, I bring something for the parents, something extra from me. Something that our country is famous for but would not necessarily help the professional career of the footballer… ;-)
I know that players in every age report to you or the scouts all over the world. Could you say at what age was the youngest player? Do more and more teenagers born abroad but with Polish links want to play for Poland?
There was a nine-year old from Australia, a couple of ten and eleven-years old from different parts of the world. But the barrier for us is the age of fourteen, that’s when a player’s career gets shape. Also, it is the first age at which national teams are calling up teenagers for meetings, trials or training camps. I have lots of boys and girls that contact me, and this tendency is still rising. I’m happy about it and I know that there will be quite a lot of them reporting to the Polish FA from Great Britain very soon.
What, in contact with players, is always the hardest part? Convincing him or her to play for, let’s face it, a very average national team or completing the documents? Or maybe facing brazen players’ agents or families?
Well, convincing players is the easiest part, not any kind of problem, because when we contact him or her, it’s from their initiative. We already know that he or she wants to play for Poland. Very average team? Which one you are talking about? The biggest part of my job is searching for players for teams from U15 to U19. Sometimes we miss out on someone at European level but we have also recorded successes (like Marcin Dorna’s team). If I tell the player or his/her parents from Germany that he will get a chance to play for a Polish team that beat them, they make huge eyes, can’t believe it. And there were ten of them from U16 from abroad, playing for the best clubs and only two left that we are still interested in – so it is not easy. Brazen parents? The more of them, the better. Often they are starting the interest in teenager’s minds, starting the scouting process. Then the player comes for the training camp and he falls in love with Poland, starts to read about the country, takes language lessons.
I always wondered what it is like to work for people that, to say the least, don’t have the best press in Poland. Did you meet with any consequences or troubles in your work or private life because of the reputation that the Polish FA has?
The Polish FA is a 90-year old federation. No matter what opinion it has (bad or good), I feel respect for the organization that over the years had thousands of people that worked for it. I’m not judging, I’m working. Also, I do not comment on things that don’t concern my job. Did I have any difficulties? No, not really, even once guards caught me while crossing the street in a forbidden place. When I told them what I’m doing, they not only let me go without any fine but also wished me the best of luck. But it is only a story, rather funny than special. But once I read an article and in the comments section some fan wrote: ‘Chorążyk, You’ll never be a Pole’ (Similar sentences hang on Polish stadiums when Roger Guerreiro decided to play for Poland). I don’t know whether to laugh or cry in this kind of situation.
Let’s say that I’m a talented teenager, who learns football abroad, who is developing well in youth teams there and has a chance for a career. What should I do to play for the Polish national team? How long does it normally take to verify a player’s skills?
Report to me or one of our scouts here. Then, it depends on our possibilities, someone may scout you, talk with your parents. If you don’t have a passport, we will help you to speed up the procedures…If you are any good, of course!
Parents, grandparents, uncles… that’s the group that usually thinks that their kid is not Messi but someone even better. Oh, how many stories we have had like this. All of them end on preliminary verification of the player, on training sessions or in clubs. Once we had two teenagers that were from the USA and they came on consultations for Michał Globisz team. We couldn’t scout them there but they had great, great references from their schools, they were successful at worldwide tournaments, stars of local papers etc… After two training sessions those guys came to the coach, heads in hands and told him that they weren’t expecting such a high level here. We try to avoid that that kind of situation.
Finally, the question that always interested me. Going through different internet sites or forums you can find hundreds of posts that say something like ‘I found a great player in Football Manager, he is Polish, why he is not playing for us?!’. I guess that starting your scouting section in the Polish FA wasn’t any easy, but please be honest – did you use this game to help you?
I play Football Manager myself so I know what it is all about. Even the biggest clubs search through the player’s database of this game. Many laughed out loud at this kind of method but now it is quite normal. I didn’t have to check it, Polish fans of the game did it for me! I have some long, very long lists of the players with names that sound Polish. It would take ages to verify every single one of them. For me, the best method of verification is the name of the club which the player represents. I’m interested only in the best ones, so I look only in the highest leagues, in the best teams. To be there, a player must be really good, stand out. Club scouts will find him and take him higher to the better teams. There he shapes his talent and then, if he wants and is good enough, we invite him for a Polish national team consultation.
If you would like to read more from Michal and get the latest updates from Poland, please visit the excellent Polish Football Scout.