Jose Mourinho is a one off. An individual. There is nobody like 'the special one'. But maybe there is. Michal Zachodny looks to Poland and an ambitious coach with a tarnished reputation.
Every country has its own Jose Mourinho. A big mouth, but a great tactician. A team builder, trophy winner and risk taker. Do the media create this image or does the ‘Mourinho’ do that himself? Never mind, I’m sure you get the point.
Poland has its own ‘Mourinho’, but you have to wonder, how does a person with such a nickname struggle to find a job for more than a year in a league so willing to change managers.
Czesław Michniewicz was an average goalkeeper. More average than you could think of, but he knew his limits and was happy enough to be a back up in one of the better teams in Poland. He even played against Atletico Madrid in the UEFA Cup. But that was more than a decade ago and Michniewicz was already planning for life after football. He went into coaching; starting at Amica Wronki reserves but soon found the place too small for him.
From 2000, for the next two years Michniewicz travelled to Bundesliga clubs for internship, then worked as an assistant at different Polish league clubs but he was searching for bigger things, to start on his own.
He got his chance in 2003 at one of the biggest Polish clubs, Lech Poznań. His years there, although suffering the poor financial state of Lech, were marked by two trophies; the Polish Cup and Super Cup. He wasn’t sacked or kicked out – Lech decided that they needed someone else to manage and went for Franciszek Smuda, the then national team manager.
Michniewicz did not wait long for another offer and Zagłębie Lubin became his next destination. Despite working there for a short period of time, Michniewicz’ regime was marked by winning the Championship in stunning fashion. When the next season started and Lubin made an early Champions League exit, conflicts spread around the dressing room and another board decided to go a different way by parting company with Michniewicz. Thanks to his triumph, the nickname ‘Polish Mourinho’ has stuck, even though there were no special tactics, and no special behavior.
Since then Michniewicz managed Arka Gdynia, but his time there was limited to a few months as his team struggled to get out of relegation battle. Sixteen months since his Arka exit, with half of the league clubs connected with him at some point, Michniewicz has been a national team coach contender after Leo Beenhakker’s sacking, but we are here, and he is still jobless. Why? The ‘Polish Mourinho’ has a dark side.
During the last decade Polish football has been hit by a huge corruption affair with hundreds of players, referees, managers and soccer activists involved in match fixing on a large scale. Fans could not even imagine how many games were more or less fixed for money. As police and prosecution worked on the case, Michniewicz name was mentioned, but after over three years of investigation neither charge nor accusation has stuck. Although he did testify, turning to the prosecution before they turned to him.
Several articles have been written about Michniewicz, once a rising star of Polish management, suggesting that other clubs are scared of signing him because they think he may be involved in the affair and the court may make the case for him at some point. Suspicions that he was involved in fixing two games during his time in Lech Poznań – when they won Polish Cup – have emerged in the press.
The reaction from Michniewicz was quick and precise – he is innocent, had nothing to do with the people involved in match fixing, but admitting that his team shared bonus money from a third party for wining one game, which was crucial to the league table.
So is now the time where the public must look at Michniewicz and judge whether that kind of ‘motivation’ is fair or not?
That is not the point of this article. Despite everything, the ‘Polish Mourinho’ really was special, even in our own little, dirty football world. He always had something to say, even if it was unpopular. He motivated his team although they were not paid for several months – and he won two trophies with them. He was young, wanted (wants!) to learn from wiser and more successful managers from abroad. As far as I know, he was the first to start his own website with useful tips and views about football.
The point is about good, young and fresh people getting involved in dirty match fixing techniques by older, ‘experienced’ types which have become normal practice. They destroyed them, potentially the best generation of managers in Poland – involving not only Czesław Michniewicz but also Dariusz Wdowczyk, a name you will know. Decent people, even idealist, having their futures brought to ground level by those for which winning meant paying.
They are not lost yet, but the careers of managers like Michniewicz have not gone in the direction they wanted to or dreamed of. Now, for younger people starting to get through the managerial ranks in our leagues, we must learn lessons. Give new managers and coaches credit, believe in them and… take care of them, somehow. We simply cannot afford to lose another generation of ‘Polish Mourinhos’.
If you would like to read more from Michal, please visit his website Polish Football Scout.