It should be noted that the trend for Polish players to look to Turkey to further their career is not a new one - they're merely following in the footsteps of a midfielder who blazed a trail over 15 years ago. Over to you Michal Zachodny
Paweł Brożek, Piotr Brożek, Marcin Robak, Kamil Grosicki, Mariusz Pawełek, Arkadiusz Głowacki, Marcin Kus, Michał Żewłakow - all Polish players who made the move to Turkish clubs in the last two transfer windows. The Turkish league may not be the biggest in Europe but the country is well known to many Polish footballers, as their domestic clubs often travel to Alanya and similar destinations to prepare for an upcoming season.
As well as familiarity there are of course bigger wages on offer, more chances to be spotted by one of Europe’s larger clubs, and more chance of a prolonged campaign in European competitions as Polish clubs constantly fail to qualify beyond the earliest stages. In essence for Polish footballers, the Turkish league is the new Bundesliga.
Only time will tell if those who have chosen to make the move will be successful or not. Every player to make the leap so far has something to prove – Paweł Brożek must show that his talent for scoring is still there, Piotr would love to get out of his twin brother’s shadow, Grosicki would love to shut those who baulked at his own transfer in relation to his talent, and Robak is desperate to show that his move was about more than money. Apart from just these players there is another footballing connection between Poland and Turkey - Roman Dąbrowski, a player who did achieve success after a move and maybe paved the way others now need to follow
Dabrowski ended his career in 2007 with serious knee problems after 10 seasons playing for Kocaelispor Kulubu, 2 and a half with Besiktas, and a year in Antalyaspor. On his retirement he’d won 2 domestic cups and a league title in Turkey, not as much as some players achieve in a career but when the 22-year old gifted midfielder moved from Ruch Chorzów to Kocaelispor, he never dreamed his stay in Turkey would last 15 years. As Dąbrowski himself admits honestly, he moved for money but settled and carved out a hugely successful niche for himself in Turkish football.
Fresh from his full debut in the Polish national team against Saudi Arabia in the summer of 1994, the move was made to bring the Ruch Chorzów midfielder to turkey. Stories about his transfer to Kocaelispor differ wildly but my favorite is about Turkish representatives coming to Poland with a briefcase full of money, although I doubt that’s actually true. Dąbrowski never looked back and took his chance to make a name in wider European football, living up to the standards he set in the Polish league and becoming a regular, scoring 11 times in his first season and 10 in his second.
Roman became an important player for Kocaelispor, consistently playing well and scoring important goals. During his time with the club he gained Turkish citizenship in response to a request from the owner as the limit of foreigners per club was tight. That’s how he came to take the name Kaan Dobra but up to this day he’s better known simply as Roman to football fans across Turkey.
8 seasons and 65 goals later he finally moved to bigger club – Besiktas Istanbul. He claimed on many occasions that he wanted to move much earlier but always something changed his mind, usually an extended contract or a rise in wages. In his first season in Istanbul he won the Turkish championship and played in the Champions League, but it was his comeback to the national team that really caught the eye of supporters back in Poland.
His time in Kocaelispor went hugely unnoticed in Poland but a club playing in the Champions League paying €1.5m for a Polish right-midfielder was enough to push him back into the thoughts of new national team manger Zbigniew Boniek. In his first game as manager the former Juventus striker gave a comeback to Dąbrowski in a 0-2 loss against Denmark. Roman played in a rather uninspiring performance and in truth, never captured his best form for the national side – a fact reflected by only a further 2 more caps gained before the end of his career.
After 2 good seasons in Besiktas at the age of 32 injury problems started to occur. After a lay-off the club to loan him out during the winter of 2005 to the club he came from, Kocaelispor, for some game time. It was a short spell during which he played 9 games and scored twice and a permanent move to Antalyaspor was earned where he played for just for a year. The last season of his career was spent back home at his first Turkish club again, playing 13 games and scoring twice. There was no testimonial but a great deal of recognition of the fantastic effort and overwhelming commitment he’d shown during his career in Turkish football, in Kocaelispor especially.
In Poland the news of his retirement caused barely a ripple, few mentioning that Roman Dąbrowski was no longer a footballer and he turned to coaching youth teams in Kocaelispor as well as opening a small restaurant in the heart of the city. He is now a coach at the city’s Sports Academy and is getting his badges to earn a UEFA PRO license. He remains a humble, intelligent but quiet man whose career never got the level of recognition in the country of his birth it should’ve merited.
The Polish media now turns to Dabrowski to comment on players linked with moves to Turkish football and this winter has seen appearances mostly in national newspapers, answering questions about various players chances of succeeding there. His opinion should be noted, he is after all the most successful Pole to ever make the move.
If you would like to read more from Michal, please visit his website Polish Football Scout.