Michal Zachodny walks us through Polish football's 2010.
What kind of year was it for Polish football?
In the last 12 months we’ve suffered heavy defeats to Spain and Cameroon on an international level, while our clubs still have the problem of failing to advance past the early rounds in European competition - only Lech managing to buck the trend. Deciding to delve a little deeper, I wanted to take a closer look at 2010.
The Polish league may not be known for fantastic goals, great football, or truly great players, but often people talk about the extended winter break. Imagine surviving 2 and a half months without club football. At least the transfer market was up and running and Odra Wodzisław - suffering in the league - took their chance to buy anything that moved to try and stay up. One of the names stood out in particular - Arkadiusz Onyszko, signed following a colorful time in Denmark (he was sued for beating his wife and wrote a controversial biography entitled ‘Fucking Polak’).
While Polish clubs busied themselves at their training camps and played dozens of friendlies in Turkey, national team coach Franciszek Smuda picked a fairly random selection of players to take to Thailand to play in the Kings Cup. We lost to a Danish second-string side 3-1 before winning 3-1 over the hosts, and then thumping Singapore 6-1. It was all a bit boring and irrelevant but at least we were winning.
Fans were still waiting for anything of real interest to happen in Polish football this month, even the transfers dried up to idle gossip - the deals that were done not really worth writing about. Polonia Warszawa manager Jose Bakero signed Andreu from Sporting Gijon, while Legia handed a contract to former Manchester United striker Dong Fangzou. Finally in the last days of February, Ekstraklasa restarted following the winter break with Wisła Kraków as league leaders.
Just after the first spring round of games, the national side played Bulgaria in Warszawa. We won fairly comfortably over a disinterested opposition, with Robert Lewandowski and Jakub Błaszczykowski scoring fine goals. Big hopes were stoked following this game with the media beginning a campaign that this team could be successful at EURO 2012.
Maciej Skorża and Jan Urban lasted only 3 matches as coaches of Wisła Kraków and Legia Warszawa respectively. Henryk Kasperczak came back to Wisła, while Stefan Białas took the caretaker role in Warszawa.
This month was horrible for Polish football and the country in general as the Presidential plane crash in Smolensk on 10th of April killed the Polish President and his wife, along with 94 passengers and crew. Two league rounds were immediately postponed.
Shortly before the tragedy, Lech had beaten Legia thanks to Semir Stilić’s goal proving the club’s Championship credentials. Only Wisła could stop them and the two teams played out a poor goalless draw in Kraków. Ruch Chorzów continued to impress this season and stayed around the top of the table, with Artur Sobiesz, Łukasz Janoszka and Maciej Sadlok playing their best football for years.
The end of the league was approaching fast but an important comeback was made in Belgium – Marcin Wasilewski coming in for the last 10 minutes of the league season for Anderlecht after his horrible injury. With a game to go the title was all but settled, the race now down to 2 teams - Wisła and Lech – and with the Kraków side still leading in the table. With 2 minutes to go in their derby game against Cracovia, they were about to be crowned champions as Lech were drawing in Chorzów. What had happened next is simply stunning.
Lech found a winner in the last seconds of the game that gave them hope that the race for the title would go to the last day, but as the final whistle was blown in Chorzów nobody realized that Lech now had the lead in the table. In the last seconds of the game in Kraków, Cracovia were pressing for a draw when a long free kick was sent into the Wisła box. Mariusz Jop (Wisła’s defender) tried to clear it but disastrously headed it into his own goal. Disbelief in Kraków, joy in Chorzów and Poznań. The last round of games saw Lech win and take their first championship in 17 years.
Just days after the league had ended, Łukasz Piszczek signed for Borussia Dortmund on free transfer from relegated Hertha Berlin. In the last club game of the season Jagiellonia Białystok won the Polish Cup in one-sided final over Pogoń Szczecin. On the 28th of May Poland played in Kielce against Finland but both teams performed poorly and played out a terrible goalless draw. Meanwhile, Legia Warszawa responded very quickly to their own poor season with their first signings - Ivicja Vrdoljak and Manu.
On the first day of June Maciej Skorża was officially announced as Legia Warszawa manager. A day later Poland played Serbia in Kufstein, Austria, and recorded another goalless draw in terrible conditions. This game was the second in quick succession for Smuda’s team and next up was Spain, in their last match before World Cup. We got hammered and shipped 6 goals and in truth, it was never even a contest. The heavy defeat showed the true face of a naïve Polish team and the poor defense we have. Franciszek Smuda said that he expected this result and his team would continue to play against better opposition, even if results didn’t improve.
Meanwhile domestically, the second division ended its season with Górnik Zabrze and Widzew Łódź promoted to Ekstraklasa. Robert Lewandowski also signed a dream move to Borussia Dortmund to join Błaszczykowski and Piszczek at the German club. Lech quickly stated that money from his sale would go on new signings as their ambition was to qualify to Champions League, but their first signing was a free as Artur Wichniarek, an experienced striker, made his comeback to the Polish league. Also Paweł Janas choose to become Polonia Warszawa Sports Director rather than manage Widzew Łódź in Ekstraklasa.
In perhaps the least expected transfer of the year Kamil Glik moved from relegated Piast Gliwice to Italians Palermo, but has struggled to make any impact there. Jerzy Dudek signed an extension to his contract in Real Madrid following talks with new manager Jose Mourinho. Mariusz Lewandowski, after his hugely successful years in Shakhtar Donetsk, went to Sevastopol to get more playing time than he’d had in his last season for the Ukrainian champions. Ebi Smolarek choose to continue his career in Poland having never played before in his motherland, and signed the biggest contract Ekstraklasa has ever seen with Polonia Warszawa.
Polish clubs followed their busy summer by starting their journey in Europe – Lech the only club in Champions League, Wisła Kraków, Jagiellonia Białystok and Ruch Chorzów all playing in the Europa League. The Polish champions had problems from the start and only a dramatic penalty shootout gave them a win at the expense of Inter Baku. Sparta Prague were next up.
The season in Poland began with the Supercup game between Jagiellonia and Lech Poznań. The Polish Cup winners won again, thanks to single goal from Tomasz Frankowski and alarm bells began to ring for the Polish champions. Meanwhile, the biggest transfer in the history of the Polish league was made – Artur Sobiech moved for €1m to Polonia Warszawa. Was he worth that much? The short answer is no but Ruch Chorzów didn’t care as they sold them Maciej Sadlok as well for €750,000.
Generally the opening week of August was pretty awful for Polish football as all of our clubs lost their European ties. Lech couldn’t even score against Sparta Prague, Wisła lost twice against Azerbaijan side Qarabag, Ruch Chorzów had no chance against Austria Vienna, and only Jagiellonia saved some face by only losing narrowly and somewhat undeservedly to Greeks Aris. Only Lech stayed in European competition, relegated to the Europa League and now having to face the far wealthier Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk. They won but found themselves in a tough group stage with Manchester City, Juventus, and Red Bull Salzburg.
Inquests were held by those clubs that went out of Europe – Wisła Kraków sacked Henryk Kasperczak and signed Dutch manager Robert Maaskant. Earlier that month Poland played their first game of the new season against Cameroon in Szczecin. A 3-0 defeat was well deserved after an awful display from every Polish player. They had now played 4 games without scoring a goal…
A better month for Polish football. The national team scored their first goal since March, this time against Ukraine in a game between the 2 hosts of EURO 2012 which ended in a 1-1 draw played out in Łódź – a stadium that’s a complete ruin and won’t be used during the tournament. Just a few days later the Polish squad faced Australia in Kraków and lost 2-1 once again highlighting the problems with their defense.
Also in Europe things improved despite everybody writing Lech off before a match had been played in Group A. Their first game was in Turin against Juventus and it ended in hugely surprising manner – Lech drawing 3-3 and Artjoms Rudnevs scoring a sensational hat-trick. Just a few days later another great step for Poznań was made as their stadium was opened – the first of the Polish arenas ready for EURO 2012 – with a Sting concert. Next up was Cracovia and their grand-opening of a 16,000 seater stadium which also saw their first win of the season over Arka Gdynia.
The Polish national team traveled to North America to search for their first win since March as they faced the USA in Chicago and Ecuador in Montreal. Why go so far in the middle of the season for friendlies when the team should be preparing for EURO 2012 by playing European opposition? Nobody knows but Poland did record two 2-2 draws and chaotic displays were highlighted by positive performances from Piszczek, Błaszczykowski and especially Matuszczyk.
Meanwhile in the Ekstraklasa, Ulatowski was finally sacked by Cracovia after leaving them bottom of the table with just 1 win in 10 games. Jurij Szatałow was his replacement as he left Polonia Bytom just before game against… Cracovia! He was in the stands watching his former team beat his new one and the challenge ahead had never looked bigger. The whole thing was fairly typical for the manager’s merry go round in Poland and already, Śląsk Wrocław had replaced Ryszard Tarasiewicz with Orest Lenczyk, and at Polonia Warszawa Paweł Janas replaced Jose Bakero.
Just before the clash with Manchester City and following a Lech Poznań 4-1 win over Wisła Kraków, the Polish club sacked Jacek Zieliński and signed Jose Mari Bakero. The first match for the Spanish manager was the game against English billionaires and what a start he had. Lech won 3-1 and the win over Mancini’s expensive side gave fans hope of advancing to the next phase of Europa League.
The big news came from Greece where Polish legend Jacek Gmoch was appointed as a caretaker at Panathinaikos Athens, just a week before their clash with Barcelona in Champions League. He didn’t become the first Polish manager in the Champions League for over a decade as he managed the team for only 1 league game. The Polish national side played The Ivory Coast in Poznań and finally got a win, 2 goals from Robert Lewandowski and another from Ludovic Obraniak enough to beat the Africans.
The decisive game for Lech’s European ambitions came early in December as they faced Juventus at home in a ‘snow game’. Visitors later stated that the game shouldn’t have been played due to the tough conditions but the result saw Lech advance from the group. ‘Mission Impossible’ was completed with a win in Salzburg in the last group game and they now face Sporting Braga in February.
Lech played on in the snow but the Ekstraklasa decided to postpone the last round of the year due to worsening conditions. Jagiellonia are deservedly top of the league after half of the season, while Wisła and Legia are just 3 points behind them despite problems at the start of the campaign. Lech began slowly and only picked up in their last few games and sit a disappointing eleventh place in the league table. Cracovia are bottom of the table with just 8 points.
Marcin Wasilewski scored his first goal of the season in his first start of the season for Anderlecht following his horror injury 14 months ago. The Polish national team went to Turkey for their last game of the year and drew with a good Bosnia & Herzegovina side 2-2. However, the latest FIFA rankings saw Smuda’s team hit a new low - 73rd place in the world, a situation that must improve for the co-hosts of EURO 2012.
If you would like to read more from Michal and get the latest updates from Poland, please visit the excellent Polish Football Scout.