Recently, Radu Baicu told us all about Gigi Becali and his model for how not to run a club at Steaua Bucharest. It couldn't happen anywhere else could it? In his debut for IBWM, Michal Zachodny has a story to tell.
In the recent years we have had many ‘mad’ owners in the Ekstraklasa. Some were more corrupted than African governments, some liked to change managers more often than their socks, and some opted not to pay players when they were playing badly. We still have few of them, but here is the tale of one club and a decade of pain for the fans.
This story is about Pogoń Szczecin, now playing in 1st League (2nd Division), who have suffered ten years of bad ownership, bad decision making and are still paying for mistakes made years before. The cruel story of a naïve board, fans and footballers starts eleven years ago, in 1999…
The city hall was looking for a new owner for Pogoń. They wanted big football back in the city and had the trading card of prime land around the stadium to give to the owner and do whatever he wanted to with it. This is how Sabri Bekdas, a Turkish businessman, came to Szczecin and made a deal with city. He worked hard and quickly to build a team that would give fans the success they wanted for so long.
He signed Oleg Salenko (top scorer in the 1994 World Cup) alongside Polish stars that gave Pogoń second place in the league a season later. A great achievement and back into Europe. But things quickly turned bad as the city and Bekdas were no longer friends. With no land given to the Turkish investor, he stopped financing the club and dreams quickly became nightmares. Pogoń lost in UEFA Cup to an amateur side from Iceland, and Bekdas left the club with huge debts and only a small hope to survive in Ekstraklasa.
You would think that the club and the city would learn from their mistakes? Think again - not long after a dreadful season ended, Pogoń had another Turkish investor in Les Gondor (he was actually a Pole, once working as a taxi driver…) and it was again all about the land around the stadium, with Pogoń being only an addition to that. It quickly emerged to everyone’s mind that Gondor had no money whatsoever and could not invest in the team – the fall was nothing less than spectacular with Pogoń being relegated after having only nine points at the season end.
This is not the place where Pogoń Szczecin’s story ends, oh no. Although the club didn’t have the license to play in 2nd division, they found a man that wanted to move his team from a small town to the big city. Antoni Ptak was the chosen one and in 2003 he did it, although there was a lot of controversy around this team movement, from Piotrków Trybunalski to Szczecin. The first two years were successful, Pogoń impressed and got promoted to Ekstraklasa, then finished in ninth place to qualify for the Intertoto Cup. A sign of better times to come?
As the 2005/06 season came, madness descended on Pogoń again. The results were not up to Ptak standards and the owner lost his patience with Polish players. He decided to release (almost) all of them and sign only…Brazilians. They were training in his academy in Brazil, then, during the season, camped in his training centre in Poland, 500km from Szczecin. On 11th of April 2006, Pogoń fielded an eleven without a single Pole in it. One Slovakian goalkeeper and ten Brazilian started the game – which they lost- against GKS Bełchatów.
Managers came and went while the club was run by Ptak and his son from Brazil - they were ‘scouting’ for players there, organizing castings for hundreds of naïve players and then sending the best of them (?) to play in Polish Ekstraklasa. It was truly an awful experiment, maybe only a few of the players were capable of reaching the low standards of our league. Fans were disgusted with the team saying that it is no longer something they can identify with. Ptak, furious about the reaction to his Brazilian experiment, searched for anybody to buy the club from him, as he lost the interest in the results.
Pogoń was born again in the summer of 2007 and after long journey from the third division, they are now favorites in 1st League to be promoted to Ekstraklasa. Maybe after years of pain, Pogoń fans finally have some peace.
Michael will be writing regularly for IBWM but if you would like to read more from him, please visit his website Polish Football Scout.