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If you follow me on social media you’ll have noticed that there have been some big changes in the world of RightBankWarsaw.  I don’t like the term ‘brand’ but in today’s world freshening up your brand is one way to stand out in the midst of thousands of different things that take up our attention on a day to day level.

As a result, I hooked up with the wonderful Polskielogo to put together a new logo for my Polish football related work.  After a fascinating evening of exchanging ideas, Jakub from Polskielogo went away and came up with four different logos for me to choose from.  Eventually I chose his retro Polish goalkeeper logo, which I am now using on all of my medias.  I’m very happy with the way that it turned out!

In addition, in the spring a web developer got in touch with me regarding the Ekstraklasa predictor that I’ve been doing for the last season and a half, in a rather haphazard but quite successful fashion.  From humble beginnings RightBankwarsawPredictor got 35-37 people to submit predictions weekly towards the end of last season and a total of 83 people to submit at least one weekly set of predictions.

But, as these things do, it took a huge amount of time and effort to remind people to make their predictions, and I had to calculate the scores individually and update the excel spreadsheet each week.  The Web developer took these concerns in mind and produced a really nice looking website – rbwpredictor.pl which is easy to use, works on all platforms and has the appropriate algorithm to count everything without hassle.  The website also has a reminder function which sends email reminders to people who have not entered predictions by 20:45 on the night preceding the next round of matches.

The homepage

The leaderboard of rbwpredictor.pl

Statistical insights on rbwpredictor.pl

We released a week before the season started after a week of testing and the feedback has been amazing! In one week we were able to get 270 sign-ups (we’d have been happy with 100!) and 92% of users submitted their predictions for the first match-week.  We have big plans for the site and are thinking of other ways to make the predicting and gaming experience more fun for fans.  If you have any ideas in this regard, please get in touch!

For the moment, enjoy the game, and if you haven’t sign-up! You can do so at any time in the season, it’s free and prizes can be won!

RightBankWarsaw

 

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Piast Gliwice defend a corner at Lechia Gdańsk

Photo: Tomek R

It’s been a topsy-turvy season in the Ekstraklasa, but this is no surprise in one of the most unpredictable of Europe’s top tiers, with the only predictable thing being that Legia Warsaw could very well creep across the line while not really impressing. All campaign long the ‘story of the season’ has been the exploits of Lechia Gdańsk, who survived relegation last season by a mere three points. Lechia have been excellent defensively, if a little too reliant on their Slovakian goalkeeper Dušan Kuciak, who’s made wonder save after wonder save. However, suddenly, on the outside another contender has risen from the flames, Piast Gliwice, who currently lie just one point behind the leaders Legia with three matches to play.

Piast had an even worse season than Lechia last time around. Indeed, going into the last game they were in the relegation zone. That game was against the team just above them in the table Bruk-Bet Termalica Nieciecza, only a win would do and Piast won 4-0 allowing them to maintain their position in the Ekstraklasa. It was a deeply unimpressive season for Piast, a club which is a financial middle-hitter in Ekstraklasa terms. In the 2017 Deloitte Polska financial report Piast came in 9th place with an income of 28 million PLN (6.6 million Euros) for the year. The principle way that Piast stands out as a club is the amount of support it gets from the city – approximately 42% of its 2017 income came from Gliwice’s municipal authorities (only Śląsk Wrocław receive more from local authorities).

Piast throughout most of its history have been a second or third tier club with their first ever Ekstraklasa appearance coming in 2008. Since 2008 they’ve only been out of the top tier for two seasons and have been ever-present in the Ekstraklasa since 2012-3. The last 6 seasons have seen 4 bottom-half finishes but more importantly they’ve qualified for Europe twice. First in 2012-3 when they finished 4th and in 2015-6 when they started the season like a house on fire and only faded towards the end, eventually finishing 2nd to Legia Warsaw.

Since the 2015-6 season there have been no signs that the club would reach those heights again, the best word to describe their performances has been mediocre. So what’s happened this season? How has a club that has been struggling rose so quickly to the top?

The first important piece of the puzzle is their coach Waldemar Fornalik, or ‘Waldek King’ as he is lovingly referred to by fans. Fornalik is a former Ruch Chorzów player and coach with his biggest success as a player being winning the Polish title in 1989, and as a coach leading Ruch to runners-up in the 2011-2 season – a campaign which also saw Ruch lose in the Polish Cup final.

After the 2012 season Fornalik was appointed the coach of the Polish national team. Fornalik took charge of Poland after a disastrous Euro 2012 when Poland, despite co-hosting, were not able to qualify for the quarter-finals. Fornalik looked lost in the role as Polish national team coach, he was quite simply too nice, too humble a man and seemed to listen to much to what the press was saying about him (most of it bad). Poland’s 2014 World Cup qualifying campaign was a failure as they finished in 4th place behind Montenegro, Ukraine and England and Fornalik lost his job.

After Fornalik was sacked he went back to club management at his alma mater Ruch Chorzów and did a very decent job once more. Although Ruch only finished 10th and 8th in his first two seasons back in charge, and were heading towards relegation when he left in April 2017, his work now seems very impressive considering the fact that Ruch were in a terrible financial state at the time and will almost certainly fall into the 4th tier in the 2019-2020 season.

Fornalik, after taking over at Piast in September 2017, went about his business quietly as he always does. He set about building a stable side and, while they didn’t pull up any trees last season there were sparks of good play at times. However, none of this suggested that Piast would be a contender this season. Piast started the campaign well and by the winter-break they were in 5th place in the league having gained 31 points from 20 games. But since then their form has exploded. In the last 14 games they’ve won 11 drawn 1 and lost 2, amassing 34 points, including 2 different 5 game winning streaks. In the spring Piast have scored the most goals in the Ekstraklasa: 27 and conceded the least: 9. So what has gone so right?

Simplicity and practicality has been the key. Fornalik understands the importance of a strong core of players. Not for him overly-complicated squad rotation. 9 players at Piast have started 25 of their 34 games this season, 7 have started 27 games or more and 4 players have started over 30 games. This stability has meant that Piast’s squad know their roles to perfection.

Take the example of their last game, a 1-0 win at the leaders Legia. Piast set out in a 4-4-1-1 formation. They played with two sitting midfielders, Tom Hateley and Patryk Dziczek, to nullify Legia’s threat in the middle of the park and allow their most creative player, the attacking midfielder Joel Valencia, the freedom to do what he wanted. Hateley and Dziczek did a calm job of breaking up Legia’s possession and whenever they could released Valencia whose ball skills, tricks and flicks bamboozled the rather wooden Legia defenders.

Although Legia had most of the ball, Piast’s counter-attacks were intelligently carried out. They pushed forward with purpose but were always careful to have enough men behind the ball when Legia themselves attacked. Legia had chances in the game but Piast’s excellent Czech keeper František Plach made several good saves when called upon. Piast’s goal came when, after a flowing move, their roving right-winger/wing-back Martin Konczkowski, (who has 7 assists on the season so far) put over an inch perfect cross and Gerard Badia expertly volleyed home.

Piast never looked rushed in the match, and knew exactly what they were supposed to do, everyone knew their roles on the pitch and they came through what should have been the toughest test of their title credentials relatively easily.

In short everything is working perfectly at this moment in time. The coach knows what the strength of his players are, the players understand each other and their roles on the pitch. In addition, everything seems to be working seamlessly off the pitch as well. There are no big-time Charlies at the club, the players like each other and do not seem to be feeling the pressure and everyone seems to be taking each game as it comes. Piast are in some ways a practical machine without any ill-functioning parts.

Their most likeable player is their Spanish midfielder Badia. An intelligent playmaker, Badia has mostly started on the bench this season. But Badia is the warm centre that the team operates around. Since moving to Gliwice in the winter of 2014 Badia has bucked the trend regarding foreign players in Poland. He openly states that he loves the city of Gliwice, his family is settled in the town, he speaks Polish excellently. In short, he’s the model foreign player in Poland. After the Legia game he gave a lovely interview for Polish television in which he made some very cute grammatical mistakes, including the use of a mild-Polish swearword (zajebiście) which he had picked up from the dressing room without knowing it had a slightly rude meaning.

Of course Piast are not just a workmanlike team which snatches narrow victories with some charismatic players. When they’re given the opportunity they can really turn it on. In mid-February Lech Poznań came to Gliwice, then under the stewardship of former Polish national team coach Adam Nawałka, and Piast blew them away 4-0 with some lovely interplay and excellent finishing.

Piast Gliwice vs Lech Poznań 4-0 Skrót & Bramki (15.02.2019) - Dailymotion

Lech were desperately poor that day but this result and the way Piast have played in the spring round suggests that the team does whatever is necessary on a given day. When they’re given the freedom to play their football they can play entertainingly and openly, when they need to sit deep and play intelligently on the break, they can do that too.

Of course now the big test lies ahead of them. After their win at Legia, Piast have a legitimate chance at the title for the first time in their history. From a position of complete underdogs they might finally feel the pressure. Whatever happens this season, they’ve exceeded all expectations, and have already guaranteed a European place in the next campaign. But it really would be excellent if they can keep their cool when it matters most. Let’s see what happens.

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Photo: Wikicommons

Poland’s first two Euro 2020 qualifiers are behind us.  Poland got away with two wins, first beating Austria 1-0 in Vienna and then defeating Latvia 2-0 in Warsaw.  What have we learnt from the two games?

1) Poland’s individual strengths should be easily good enough to get them out of the group

In both of the two games Poland’s system was certainly not a strong point, neither was their fluency.  What stood out was their individual talents who play at clubs from top 5 leagues.  Lewandowski, Zieliński, Piątek and others provided moments of class which brightened up rather dour games.  Poland are in a relatively (some might say very) easy group, with the most heralded side apart from them being Austria (who have lost their first two games).  All Poland need to do is finish in the top two, which shouldn’t be very difficult.  The question is whether their coach Jerzy Brzęczek is able to develop a workable system which gets the best out of these talents next summer in the finals.  But we won’t know that for a while yet.

2) Lewandowski is an excellent player

This point is a little disingenuous.  We’ve known that Lewandowski is a international/world class player for a long time.  However sometimes his greatness is taken for granted, you expect it to be there, so when it isn’t you feel that’s something lacking.  This has been the case in the last 8 games where Lewandowski didn’t score for the national side.

In the World Cup Lewandowski was isolated up front, provided with hardly any service and looked a dejected figure in the Nations League games in the summer/autumn.  Against lower-level opposition Lewandowski’s talent comes out though.  In the Austria game, Lewandowski looked great in a deeper role behind Krzysztof Piątek later in the match, creating a wonderful chance which Piątek missed, and in the Latvia game it was not just about his opening goal but he was the warm, cosy centre the Polish side revolved around.  It was really nice to see him in this kind of form for the international side once more.

3) Jerzy Brzęczek is still finding his feet as National team coach

Brzęczek was always going to have a difficult job replacing Adam Nawałka who brought considerable success to the national team during his time in the position.  The Euro 2016 quarter-finals and even World Cup qualification (despite the poor performances in the finals) can be seen as a success considering how often Poland has appeared on the big stage over the last 30 years.  Brzęczek took over a national team that was ageing, with some of its main stars out of form.

In the Nations League he experimented with formations including a 3-5-2 and a 4-3-1-2.  Poland were outclassed in both their home games vs Portugal and Italy – they were dominated in the centre of the pitch and looked messy in defence.  As a result of that he has made the decision to go back to basics and in both qualifying matches he went with a 4-4-2.  It didn’t look particularly fluid but it’s no shame to adapt and try to work out what’s the best system to go forward with.  I’d expect him to continue with this formation until the end of the qualifiers with minor modifications here and there.

Perhaps the biggest issue with Brzęczek though is with his self-confidence.  He clearly doesn’t seem very confident with the media.  He needs to go with his inner voice more and he could still achieve success with this squad.

4) Arkadiusz Reca is not a bad player

One of the biggest controversies surrounding the international break has revolved around the call-up and eventual playing of Arkadiusz Reca, the Atalanta left-back who has hardly played for the Italian club this season.  In terms of public opinion the main issue is the fact that Reca played for Brzęczek’s former club Wisła Płock, with people claiming this is the only reason Reca is in the squad.  There was a considerable amount of anger that Reca played vs Latvia after Bartosz Bereszyński was ruled out with a virus.  Reca though stuck it to the haters with a very nice run and cross that produced the goal for Robert Lewandowski.  He didn’t play perfectly but had a solid game on the whole.

But if we look a bit wider here, who do people think should play in his place?  Poland historically has had problems with the left-back position and at Euro 2016 they played a rather immobile centre-back (Artur Jędrzejczyk) at left-back.  The default left-back recently has been Maciej Rybus who is basically a left-back who can’t defend (see his performance at Kazakhstan in the World Cup qualifying match in September 2016).  Is it such a tragedy to play a 23 year old up and coming player like Reca in a problem position, someone who Brzęczek trusts?  To my mind not at all.

5) Poland is lucky to have Krzysztof Piątek

Rewind back to last summer, Poland was feeling exceptionally negative about the future after their performances at the World Cup Finals.  Commentators saw endings everywhere, and perhaps the greatest worries revolved around an ageing Robert Lewandowski.  What would Poland do when he eventually hung up his boots, how would they cope?  Piątek’s rise from relative obscurity has, at least partly allayed those fears.

Piątek has a long way to go to reach Lewandowski’s level, and there’s a very good chance he never will, but Piątek is slowly developing into a presence on the international stage to add to his growing stature in the club game.  His goal vs Austria was nothing special, a striker’s finish, but he seemed to strike up a good understanding with Lewandowski.  Lewandowski playing deeper to Piątek’s classic number 9 could extend Lewandowski’s shelf-life.  Similarly with Piątek around there could be less pressure on Arkadiusz Milik to perform for the national team.  Milik has often been the subject of criticism for his missed chances.  Basically it’s good to have Piątek around.

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The Ekstraklasa, quite rightly, gets a lot of criticism for the quality of the matches, the fact that its clubs don’t succeed in European competitions and so on. Despite this I love the league, it’s mine now and I will defend it to the hilt. In this spirit I’ve decided to write a series of short posts in praise of certain aspects of the Ekstraklasa which I’ve observed over the years and which attract me to the league. The first in the series takes a look at my favourite species in the league – technical players with imperfections. Here goes nothing…

The quality of football in the Ekstraklasa is not the best. I’ve spent many afternoons watching games where nothing happens, where passes fly off of the pitch, shots hit the corner flag and people mis-control the ball. That’s why when someone actually has decent technique in the league, they’re like a shining diamond found in the rough and they deserve to be cherished.

The problem is that if a player is too good for the league, either technically, or more common these days, physically, or is young and has a grand future ahead of them, the time they spend in the Ekstraklasa is incredibly limited. I’ve oohed and aahed over players, only for them to leave the league after half a good season as agents have discovered the Ekstraklasa is a place where bargains can be found.

What you really need then is a player who’s good technically but has some kind of flaw which means that he really can’t make it outside of the league. Either he’s too slow, or too old, or carries too much weight. These players are perfect because they will always be here, and we can enjoy the continuity of seeing them season after season.

So I’d like to praise these specimens who have lit up match days over the last seven seasons or so. The list is long, including Filip Starzyński, a player who was excellent at Ruch Chorzów in 2014-5, attempted to make a go of it abroad, but came back when he didn’t fit in in the Belgian league. Starzyński came back to Zagłębie Lubin and his tricks, feints, dummies and perfect set-pieces are a joy to behold, but he’s probably too old (28 in May) to make another move abroad.

For a number of seasons another player in this mould was Konstantin Vassiljev, who came to the league at the age of 30 in 2014 and spent 4 seasons turning it on for Piast Gliwice and then Jagiellonia Białystok, where he became one of the league’s star players. Someone who was a bit slow, a bit old, but still was able to find space around the edge of the box in which he could create magic – his shots and passes were the highlight of many a drab weekend.

The latest in the series of players of this calibre is the Finnish midfield maestro Petteri Forsell who plies his trade for newly promoted Miedź Legnica. Forsell nearly signed for Cracovia a couple of seasons ago but Michał Probierz decided not to purchase him due to his weight. In short, Forsell is a pretty rotund character. But what a shot he has, his free-kicks and long shots dip and curl in all the right places. He’s a match-winner in a league where there is a lot of greyness.

So here’s to you, technical players with imperfections, may there be more of you to enrich our mundane weekends.

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Jagiellonia Białystok’s Taras Romanczuk

Photo: Adam Kupryjaniuk, jbc

The Second World War is never far away in Poland. Last week scandals linked to the war erupted during the Middle East Summit in Warsaw. The NBC anchor Andrea Mitchell said that the 1943 Warsaw Ghetto Uprising was against the Polish and Nazi Regime (when it was simply against the German Nazi regime), US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo called for restitution of Jewish property rights (when it was not on the official agenda) and then Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu said that Poles were complicit in the Holocaust. All of these events caused uproar in Polish society, and anger (and in some cases guilt) erupted in political debates and at dinner tables across the country.

As in other areas of society the world of Polish football has not been immune to historical controversies related to the war. One recent incident occurred in August 2017 when a Legia Warsaw Tifo to commemorate the Warsaw Uprising during a Champions League qualifier was praised by many (but criticised by some) for its graphic portrayal of Nazi German execution of children during the Uprising.

Source, Youtube

On Saturday a new controversy erupted during the Ekstraklasa match between Jagiellonia Białystok and Wisła Płock. Midway through the second half there was a scuffle in midfield between Wisła Płock’s Dominik Furman and Jagiellonia Białystok’s Taras Romanczuk. Romanczuk was visibly enraged and for the rest of the second half played with increased energy and determination.

*******

Before I explain what happened a bit of background regarding Romanczuk is required. Romanczuk is a formerly Ukrainian player who was born in Western Ukraine. After playing in lower level Ukrainian football he began to play for 4th tier Warsaw area side Legionovia Legionowo in 2012. Romanczuk did so well at Legionovia that he made the move to Ekstraklasa side Jagiellonia Białystok in 2014. Since then he has made 142 Ekstraklasa appearances for the Białystok club and has become one of the best Ekstraklasa midfielders, regularly being linked with a move abroad.

Romanczuk also decided to gain Polish citizenship, something that he was legally allowed to do after 5 years of residence in Poland, but this was a decision which could not be taken lightly. Ukrainian law does not permit dual citizenship, so when Romanczuk gained Polish citizenship in February 2018, he ceased to be Ukrainian. Romanczuk’s choice to give up his Ukrainian passport to be Polish meant that some parts of Ukrainian opinion considered him to be a traitor.

By deciding to be Polish, Romanczuk was entering murky waters for another reason. During the Second World War Polish-Ukrainian relationships were tempestuous to say the least. In the inter-war period large amounts of Ukrainians lived in the Eastern parts of the Polish state. The Second World War brought the complete destruction of civil society in the Polish East as first the Soviets and then the Nazis occupied and then reorganised the territories in the way they felt fit.

It was at this moment in 1943 that Ukrainian nationalists took the opportunity to purge lands they considered to be ethnically Ukrainian of their Polish inhabitants. The Organisation of Ukrainian Nationalists (OUN), and their armed wing, the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA) subsequently ethnically cleansed what had been Eastern Poland of its Polish population. This brutal action brought the murder of 100,000 Poles (but also Ukrainian moderates) in 1943 and 1944. The leader of the OUN faction which is considered responsible for the cleansing was Stepan Bandera, his followers being called ‘Banderites’. In today’s Poland the term Banderite is used as an insult, with some Poles using this epithet in a derogatory way towards Ukrainians. In short, it’s use regarding Ukrainians in Poland borders the line between racism and xenophobia.

When Romanczuk was called up to play for the Polish national side in spring 2018, most commentators were relatively positive about his inclusion in the squad. He had made the decision to give up his Ukrainian citizenship, he had lived in the country for the appropriate amount of time and Romanczuk could also speak good Polish and apparently has a Polish grandfather. There were other voices though. The most vocal ones focused on the fact that he was not really Polish, the term used when translated from Polish is a ‘painted fox’ farbowany lis. This controversy goes back to debates surrounding Poland’s Euro 2012 squad where a number of players, including midfielder Ludovic Obraniak, were criticised for cynically choosing to play for Poland, despite not speaking the language and having very little links to the country.

Romanczuk, despite making a promising debut, didn’t make Poland’s World Cup 2018 squad, and debates about his background seemed to fade into the distance.

*******

That is until Saturday. After the match vs Wisła Płock Romanczuk gave an interview to Radio Białystok regarding the scuffle between him and Furman which had taken place. Romanczuk stated:

‘We represent anti-racism causes on the pitch and he (Furman), called me a Banderite! It’s difficult to contain your emotions when you hear something like that. Knowing the history of my family…my family was also murdered by Banderites and that’s what he calls me! It’s the last time that I shake Furman’s hand.’

Social media at once was ablaze with commentary regarding the incident. Many people took Romanczuk’s side, stating that it was out of order for Furman to do such a thing. Furman in general is quite a controversial footballer in Poland, partly for his publicly stated affection for Legia Warsaw, a club many people love to hate, and a former club of Furman’s. Piotr Wołosik a journalist covering Jagiellonia added fuel to the fire when he claimed that not only had Furman called Romanczuk a Banderite but also a painted fox (see above). One of Furman’s team-mates then apparently said to Romanczuk ‘why did you even come to Poland in the first place?’

Furman’s club Wisła Płock, and Furman himself have denied Romanczuk’s allegations. Initially Furman didn’t want to comment on the events but finally he issued a statement last night:

‘I categorically deny that I made the comments that Romanczuk has accused me of…Strong words are said during every league match but…at no moment did what Romanczuk says happened happen…I will fight to clear my good name and have asked for legal advice from my club Wisła Płock.’

On Monday morning the Ekstraklasa League Commission has hinted that the incident could well be discussed at a future sitting and Białystok police are also looking into the case. It remains to be seen whether Furman actually did call Romanczuk a Banderite and currently the incident is simply Romanczuk’s words against Furman’s but while the Second World War ended 74 years ago, debates surrounding it in Poland cannot be avoided.

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‘Paweł Adamowicz, Lechia thanks you!’

Blog and podcast regular Maciej Słomiński remembers the recently murdered Gdańsk Mayor Paweł Adamowicz and all he did for his club Lechia Gdańsk.

I will put it straight: if it wasn’t for the murdered Mayor Paweł Adamowicz Euro 2012 wouldn’t be played in Gdańsk at the prettiest venue in Poland (and Europe?) and Lechia wouldn’t be playing top tier football. It’s that simple, I’m not exaggerating.

JUVENTUS

The late mayor’s older brother Piotr, was the one who helped Lech Wałęsa into the stadium for the legendary Lechia – Juventus European Cup Winner’s Cup match in 1983. Later Piotr Adamowicz spoke to the camera men from NBC and CBS, who trained their cameras on Wałęsa in the crowd. Then it all began, a game of football which changed into a rally for the then illegal ‘Solidarność’ movement. Wałęsa received a Noble Peace Prize the next week and the game gave fuel for resistance for another couple of years.

There was even a book published about this game – more on it here.

Juventus left, the wall fell, Communism ended but Lechia despite
having ‘Solidarność’ roots went into massive decline. There were dubious mergers but then in 2001 they went bankrupt and had to start from the A klasa (6th tier). A handful of fans who remained loyal went around the city to seek help.

 – ‘We won’t talk to thugs’ – was the usual answer.

In the City Council (Adamowicz was in his first term of office) they heard something different:

– ‘When we see an honest, normal, predictable partner then we will try to help…’

FORZA LECHIA

Municipal elections were held a year later. Lechia fans decided to take part and created a voters’ committee called Naprzód Lechio (Forza Lechia). It gathered over 4 thousand votes, twice the number of people attending actual games of football then.

Before the second round of the mayorial elections fans finally got to meet Adamowicz in a club that was the seat of the representative of the League of Nations in the Free City of Danzig before WWII. The Mayor saw that football fans are not Neanderthals who can’t put two sentences together and are quite well organized. The White and Greens gave Adamowicz their support while he decided to finance a star for legendary striker Roman Rogocz at the Lechia Hall of Fame.

His critics said he’s just putting on a show, that he’s just a ‘Sunday fan’ (a malicious expression in Polish). But they were right about the Sunday part! Our jaws dropped when we saw Adamowicz in a white and green scarf entering the stadium in Reda on a Sunday early afternoon (Reda is a small town just north of Gdynia). The occasion was a 4th tier game between local side Orlęta and Lechia for the opener of the spring round opening in freezing conditions.

Lechia won 3:0 with Marcin Kaczmarek scoring two. This guy is married to Magda Skorupka-Kaczmarek who, years later, became the Mayor’s, as it turned out to be, last spokeswoman.

It was the middle of his term, there was no need to gain any votes, why was he even there? As many before and after him he just wanted to be there – the Polish equivalent of a windy night in Grimsby, he was already infected by the Green and White religion then. It must be said that it was Maciej Turnowiecki spreading the disease, now Lechia’s chairman, before that the Mayor’s…spokesman.

You have to understand that without public entities there would be barely any sport in the former Warsaw pact. So when the City of Gdańsk was selling their water supplies system to a French company called Saur, Adamowicz did everything to make Lechia part of the deal. Saur sponsored the club with annual amount of 70,000 złotys (14,000  pounds) – now it looks funny, one footballer earns that in a month but then it was like discovering a gold train.

Anyone who wanted to talk and deal with the City had to cooperate with Lechia. Be it municipal bus or heating companies. In 2008 Lechia finally reached the top tier, 6 promotions in 7 years, is that some kind of a record?

After sealing promotion to the Ekstraklasa after 20 years’ absence Adamowicz said in an interview:

‘(…) hours of talks with club directors, fans, sponsors, it must be something more than an official duty. It’s authentic. I spend too much time on Lechia, but it was worth it at the end of the day.’

Why did he do what he did? He went on:
‘Lechia is part of Gdańsk’s identity and interest in Lechia is something natural.’

In the bad old Communist days there was a saying there are 3 places where you can be free in Gdańsk: the shipyard, the Church of St. Brigid and Lechia’s ground on Traugutta street. So Adamowicz was giving something back.

AMBER

Finally it was time to leave the oasis of freedom and move to a new ground, built for Euro 2012 to be held in Ukraine and Poland.

As early as 2005, Adamowicz was the first who declared his city’s readiness to host Euro 2012. Lechia was in division 3 then, how could Gdańsk host such a tournament ahead of, amongst other cities, Kraków? Another Lechia fan (Donald Tusk currently President of the European Council) was in charge of the country then so maybe that’s why Adamowicz was so certain? We were worried how Gdańsk’s Old Town, more used to German pensioners, would cope with football tourists. But after we saw Spanish and Italian fans jumping on Piwna (Beer) street on police cars roofs together with their owners we just knew it was going be ok. When the Irish took over Długi Targ (Long Street – which is not that long between you and me) we just couldn’t believe how beautiful it was. They were also laughing at the English as they do as the Three Lions were sent to Donetsk, with all due respect to that once great city.

Now after his tragic death there is talk of naming the stadium after Paweł Adamowicz. And rightly so. It was the apple of his eye.

Lechia were given the stadium but, after a year in which they didn’t manage to sell one business lounge, Adamowicz decided to take it back to the City. He mocked Lechia’s board:

‘– I am not surprised as you guys haven’t even got experience of selling a pair of socks.’

It was a cold war between Lechia and the City – and the football club decided to create a company with a private investor from Wrocław. The Mayor was sure they would choose the City. But he forgave Lechia soon afterwards as a father does a wayward son. Every year the City was helping Lechia financially and also was sustaining the Amber elephant stadium.

BURSZTYNEK

During 2017/18 Lechia were near foot of the table, the club were not paying their employees on time. Like 15 years ago a fans’ delegation knocked on the City Council’s door:

‘– Mr. Mayor – help!

– Not now, I got elections to win!’

As mentioned before Lechia was always political, so there was some whispering in the VIP section during a heavy home loss to Piast Gliwice. Paweł Adamowicz just announced he would be running for another term. Civic Platform, his former party, threw him out and put Jarosław Wałęsa (Lech’s son) up as a candidate. But Adamowicz won again after an excellent campaign against all the odds. Maybe if he’d given it up he wouldn’t be on stage during this charity event when he was fatally stabbed? But that wouldn’t be him, he was a fighter.

Everything happens for a reason. Maybe thanks to the death of this good man, we will understand something? Gdańsk is really a special place, the Second World War started here, Solidarność started here and now this…

Lechia Gdańsk żegna śp. prezydenta Pawła Adamowicza [Sound Of Silence] (17.01.2019 r.) - YouTube

On Thursday night football fans bid farewell and paid their respect to the tune of his favorite song  ‘The Sound of Silence’ at the Mayor’s favourite venue – the totally refurbished Ołowianka Island just in front of the historical crane – one of Gdańsk’s many historical sites.

Now Lechia leads the table and have a great chance to play in Europe for the first time since the Juventus game. An event called: ‘We will become champions of Poland to honor the late Mayor’ was created on Facebook. It’s only sports, anything can happen.

What is certain though that is that the Mayor was not precise with his last words when he said on stage: ‘I love you, Gdańsk is the most wonderful place on earth, Thank you.’

No, no, it’s us, fans of Lechia who thank you Mr. Mayor. We will remember you always.

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Krzysztof Piątek has started like a house on fire in Genoa.  As I write this piece he’s got an unbelievable 13 goals in 8 competitive games in Italy, 13 GOALS IN 8 COMPETITIVE GAMES, it’s so good it needs to be repeated again and again and again.  People all over Poland are splashing water on their faces and pinching themselves to check if it’s actually true.  After all this is a player who’s 23 years old and hasn’t played outside of Poland’s much maligned domestic league until this point and someone whose transfer fee – 4.5 million Euros is literally nothing in the over-bloated transfer market of 2018 fuelled by ridiculous TV contracts and UEFA money flooding into the pockets of the largest clubs.  If La Gazzetta dello Sport is to be believed Genoa have placed a 60 million Euro price tag on Piątek’s head and Napoli, Juventus and Bayern Munich are waiting in line to splash the cash for the red-hot striker.  But what does Piątek’s transfer tell us about Poland and the way we should view football in this country?

Firstly, it should make us question the dominant narrative in Poland that the Ekstraklasa is a terrible league.  Polish commentators love to pour hot water on any positivity about the league in this country, if the Ekstraklasa was a person it’d have been burned at the stake long ago.  Yes, its clubs are under-performing in European competitions, yes financially clubs in this country are not run as well as they should be but there are a growing number of players who are doing well in top 5 leagues.  More precisely in Serie A, where a whole host of Polish players, almost all of them who have also came through the Ekstraklasa, are performing impressively.  Can a league which has produced Karol Linetty, Dawid Kownacki, Krzysztof Piątek and Arkadiusz Milik actually be that bad?

Secondly, Piątek’s transfer shows that there is massive value in the Polish market for clubs from top 5 leagues.  Certainly some players from the Polish league have not succeeded when they have attempted to break through in the West.  The clearest example of this is Bartosz Kapustka who has totally failed to live up to the hype after his move to Leicester City in 2016.  However for a club like Leicester City the amount spent on Kapustka only adds up to the yearly salary of their highest paid player Jamie Vardy, so spending 4-5 million Pounds on a decent prospect for Premiership clubs is hardly any risk at all.  Piątek going for 4.5 million Euros (a tenth of the price of Gylfi Sigurdsson) should see a flood of scouts attempt to penetrate the Polish market.

Thirdly, Ekstraklasa clubs need to arm themselves in preparation for the scouts who will be arriving on these shores in the aftermath of Piątek mania.  Polish clubs have been noticeably poor at monetising the sales of their best assets.  When Arkadiusz Milik was sold by Górnik Zabrze in August 2012 the Silesian club only received 2.6 million Euros for him, in 2016 Milik went for 35 million Euros to Napoli.  In Poland there was huge excitement in the summer of 2017 when Dawid Kownacki, Tomasz Kędziora and Jan Bednarek were sold by Lech Poznań for a combined total of 11.5 million Euros.  Again these kind of fees are pocket change for even medium sized clubs in the top 5 leagues.  Polish clubs need to be prepared to hold on for larger offers for their best players.

Piątek’s level will inevitably drop at some point but hopefully the European buzz around the player will teach Polish clubs to manage their assets properly.  Personally I’d like them to wait a little longer than they normally do before they sell.  Then the Ekstraklasa will get the benefit of these players for longer and Polish clubs will be able to sell for larger sums.  Let’s hope Polish clubs have been taking notes.

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Flagellants, 1493, source: Wikicommons

I’ve been following the Polish league for 6 full years now, writing articles about it, watching the matches, following social media regarding it and generally getting involved in its welfare.  And, although I will continue to follow it, attempt to promote it and enjoy the matches I’ve hit a bit of a brick wall.  It’s not however because of the quality of the league, or the results in Europe and so on.  It’s because of the wave of negativity that surrounds the league, the endless complaints about the level, the groans when a pass is misplaced, the failure to appreciate anything about it.

I’m not entirely sure if this negativity is amplified because of social media, I think in some ways it is.  In the past if something wasn’t right with football, people would talk to the people they were watching the match with, now all of this angst gets thrown into the washing machine of negativity that is social media.  But the level of criticism of the league on social media in Poland is totally disproportionate to what I see on the pitch.

I’ll give you an example.  Last night top of the table Jagiellonia Białystok lost at home to a side in the lower reaches of the table, Śląsk Wrocław 4-0.  ‘Jaga’ played terribly, were off the pace, had problems with fitness and just generally had a very bad day.  But instead of appreciating the fact that anyone can beat anyone in the Ekstraklasa, complaints (often from important voices in the press) flooded social media.  That the Ekstraklasa is a terrible league because it’s so equal, that you never know who’s going to beat who, that results are about luck and so on.   This is achingly ironic considering that fans in the top 5 leagues are desperate for their leagues to be MORE equal, for Barcelona to NOT win games, for Bayern Munich to lose (at the time of writing these results are happening, something people in those countries are applauding).

Now I know Polish sides are not doing well in European football – they’ve failed to qualify for European group stages for two years in a row – and this obviously has an impact on the way that Poles view their own league but even then I’m not sure what fans and commentators actually want from the league.  Everyone knows that the Ekstraklasa is not a top five league, why can’t people appreciate the league for what it is?  I’ll give you an analogy.  Someone’s driving a perfectly serviceable car, let’s say a Renault Clio, do they constantly look with envy at every luxury car that is driving past while at the same time cursing the fact they don’t have enough money to buy those cars?

To me the criticism of the Polish league is a form of self-flagellation.  Look how awful we are, look how we can’t do anything – it’s almost saying we deserve it because of the way that football is run in Poland.  After a while even the most positive person drowns when this attitude is so ever present.

I don’t have an answer to the burning problems in Polish football but a little bit of positivity in outlook would go a long way. For the moment I’m going to enjoy watching some highlights of the weekend’s matches.  Perhaps you should too.

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Photo: Maciej Baranowski, Wikimedia commons

On Thursday Polish sides suffered a KO in the Europa League third qualifying rounds first legs.  Jagiellonia Białystok fought manly but went down to a 1-0 defeat at home to Gent, Lech Poznań were easily beaten 2-0 at Genk and Legia Warsaw suffered a thoroughly embarrassing 2-1 defeat at home to the champions of Luxembourg Dudelange.  The Polish football media has seen the evening as a failure of biblical proportions, especially regarding Legia’s humbling to Dudelange.  Indeed it seems that many Polish football journalists are heralding the end of the Polish league, for what’s the point if the champions of Poland cannot defeat the champions of tiny Luxembourg?  However if we look closer, the picture is slightly more nuanced, more diverse when it comes to the three Polish losses in the week.  Quite simply put, Legia’s catastrophic performances should not cast a cloud over the attempts to build of the other two clubs.

As is almost always the case, clubs from capital cities feel the full glare of a country’s sporting press.  The reasons for this are quite obvious; most of the main newspapers are located in capital cities, which means that, quite simply, journalistic access to these clubs is the easiest.  This is certainly the case when it comes to Legia Warsaw, every home match newspapers and TV and radio stations send hoards of journalists along to Legia games, and, when Legia does well, but especially when Legia does badly, stories about the club dominate the sports pages.  Indeed Legia are really the only club in Poland which gets an in-depth media postmortem regarding behind the scenes problems when a managerial change takes place.

On Thursday night Legia performed absolutely terribly at home to Dudelange.  They had hardly any shape, showed hardly any desire, were hardly able to keep the ball and looked completely without leadership both on and off the pitch.  This, when coupled with their unexpected and gutless exit at the hands of Slovakian champions Spartak Trnava in the Champions League qualifiers, means that Legia are in total crisis.  After being eliminated by Spartak, Legia owner Dariusz Mioduski decided to sack their coach Dean Klafurić who himself had only been appointed in April after a series of bad results meant the previous incumbent Romeo Jozak also lost his job.

Indeed, it is easy to paint the picture of Legia as a club which is in constant turmoil.  In each of the last three seasons Legia have followed the same pattern.  They start the season terribly, sack their manager early, recover and then do just enough to win the league.  On the one side their success rate over the last 6 seasons is admirable – they have won the Polish title 5 out of 6 times- but I would argue that, considering the massive budgetary advantage Legia has over its rivals (in 2017 according to Deloitte Legia’s revenue was over twice as much as that of Lech – 32 million Euros to 15 million), it is only just doing what is required.  To back this up we can look at the winning margins of Legia over the last three seasons, 3 points in 2015-6, 2 points in 2016-7 and 3 points in 2017-8.  Last season Legia especially stuttered, they ended up with a paltry +20 goal difference and lost 11 out of 37 games.

In general Legia seem to be in decline as a club, despite the continued success on the field.  Many people point to the poor running of the club of the current owner Dariusz Mioduski.  Mioduski initially bought the club at the beginning of 2014 with two other investors, Bogusław Leśnodorski, a lawyer and self-confessed Legia fan possessed with a rather large ego and fellow businessman Maciej Wandzel.  The trio eventually fell out in an emotional and public manner and in March 2017 Mioduski bought out the other two to take sole control over Legia.  Although Mioduski has charmed many people who didn’t like the rather rash and abrasive way that Lesnodorski ran the club, he has seemed increasingly lost at the top.  He has spoken openly of the need for a long-term vision at the club, but then when results have gone wrong, he’s gone completely against this vision and started again, often moving in a totally different direction.

The best example of this was Mioduski’s decision to sack coach and former player and club legend Jacek Magiera in September 2017 after promising that Magiera would have his job for ‘years to come’ several weeks before.  Mioduski decided to appoint the Croatian coach Romeo Jozak who was best known for working at Dinamo Zagreb’s famous academy but with no managerial experience at the time.  When Jozak’s methods started to hit a rock in the spring of 2018, Mioduski appointed Jozak’s assistant Klafurić in charge as a stop-gap, another coach who had no managerial experience in the men’s game.  In the close season Legia made a number of approaches to coaches but, when these failed, Klafurić was appointed full-time.  Klafurić guided Legia to the title but, as Legia’s form in early season form again looked very bad, Klafurić was sacked.

Financially Legia also seem to be making bad decision after bad decision.  They have become renowned as a club which throws money at players and coaches.  Romeo Jozak was being paid 20,000 Euros a month, Klafurić 13,000, but these figures are just the tip of the iceberg.  Legia signed Eduardo da Silva in January 2018, yes, that 34 year old Eduardo, and decided to pay him 30,000 Euros a month – he went on to play 10 games in the spring round of matches without scoring a goal.  The Brazilian defender Mauricio was loaned from Lazio in January and was paid 40,000 Euros a month, he went on to play only two games.   Perhaps the biggest question marks were over two attackers that Legia signed in 2016.  The Nigerian striker Daniel Chima Chuwku was paid almost 30,000 Euros a month and played four times for the club before being let go and fellow Nigerian Sadam Sulley, a 19 year old unknown at the time, was getting paid almost 8,000 Euros a month.

To put it simply, there is no real vision at Legia.  There does not seem to be any long-term policy, with the main aim seeming to be signing players off rival clubs in the Ekstraklasa to weaken them – vide signing Kasper Hämäläinen in 2016 to weaken Lech Poznań, or the signing of last season’s Ekstraklasa top scorer Carlitos from Wisła Kraków in 2018 (although Wisła Kraków are not really outright rivals of Legia anymore).  This is added to by a host of signings which seem to be hastily scouted and do not point to any real plan apart from getting across the line in the league every season.

Many Legia fans seem to be content with this, because, after all they state, do they not continue to win the league?  Isn’t that what our aim should be?  To counteract these voices I’ll state categorically: no, that isn’t the aim, or at least that shouldn’t be the aim in the long-term.  Legia need to sit back and decide what’s most important for them now, winning a relatively poor league every season and then failing in Europe, or spending time to develop a policy which will bring benefits in the long-run.  There are many ways to achieve this kind of long-term success, focusing on an academy which can bring through young players which will eventually bring in profits, or planning transfers carefully year after year, making sure that the right kind of player is being brought through the door.

And here’s where we come back to where we came in at the start.  Legia’s two main rivals in the Ekstraklasa are clubs which seem to have a plan, granted that plan has not managed to bring in the titles that Legia Warsaw’s fans are so desperate to win at the expense of having a consistent policy, but still they have a plan.  The main contender to Legia’s crown is Lech Poznań, the club with easily the second best revenue and budget in the Ekstraklasa.  Lech is run in a very different way to Legia.  Lech’s strengths as a club are intelligent scouting networks (although these transfers don’t always work out) and the best academy system in the country, which consistently brings through players which bring profits into the clubs coffers.  The main criticism of Lech has been their reluctance to spend money on transfers which really improve their side.

In this regard something seems to have snapped in the summer.  Lech were in pole position to win the Polish Ekstraklasa in the spring but a catastrophic final 7 games of the season handed the title over to Legia.  Their owner Jacek Rutkowski reacted to this disaster by spending the money their fans have demanded for so long.  In have come two Portuguese players which seem to have instantly added value to the side, Pedro Tiba for 1 million Euros and João Amaral for a reported 1.5 million Euros.  It’s early days in the Polish season so far, and Lech will probably be eliminated by Genk, but they have won their first three Ekstraklasa games of the season.  If Lech can combine the intelligent way the academy is being run and add in some big-name transfers every now and again, the club surely deserves success in the future.

The last club to be looked at is the relative newcomers to the top of the Polish game, Jagiellonia Białystok.  Jaga’s first Polish top-flight season was as recent as 1987 but it’s only in the last ten years that the club has firmly cemented itself at the top of the Polish game.  Their first honours came in 2010 when they won the Polish cup and then the season afterwards they finished fourth in the league.  After a number of mid-table finishes the last four seasons have seen success after success for the club from Poland’s north-east.  In 2014-5 they came 3rd in the Ekstraklasa and in the last couple of seasons they have finished as runners-up twice.  All of this has been achieved with a middling budget for the Polish league, in 2017 according to Deloitte, Jaga was in 7th place in the revenue table in the Ekstraklasa at just under 7 million Euros.

The most impressive element of Jaga’s rise has been the step-by-step approach to the way that President Cezary Kulesza has brought to running the club.  Since 2008 Jagiellonia have only had 6 coaches, Legia in the same time period have had 12.  Coaches are generally given time in Białystok but they have also been intelligent in the players that they have brought in.  There seems to be a profile regarding the players which are to be signed, they tend to be players between the ages of 23 and 27, the idea seemingly being that they are old enough to make an instant impact in the league but also young enough to make money on outgoing transfers for the club.  Every season players need to be sold but those that are bought are intelligent additions.  One example of this is the Lithuanian winger Arvydas Novikovas, signed in January 2017 for 350,000 Euros.  He’s quickly become one of the stars of the league and, at 27, will still allow Jaga to make a profit in the future.

Jaga also are slowly making their mark in European competitions, granted this is not at the level of Legia or even Lech but they are slowly building a name for themselves.  In just their fourth European season ever they were able to knock out the Portguese side Rio Ave in the Europa League second round qualifiers and really gave Gent a good match on Thursday before falling to a late sucker-punch of a goal on the break.

All of this suggests that there are slow shoots of growth developing in Poland, away from the toxic glare of Legia Warsaw.  But to improve things further I’d argue that Legia need to not win the title this season, for the sake of the league and even for themselves.  For me, one of either Jaga or Lech need to win and the reason for this is simple.  It will show that the future way forward in Polish football is that of clubs that are well-run, with vision, not ones that are cobbled together for instant success without thinking of what comes next.  Also it will push Legia, Poland’s flagship club, whether you like it or not, to pull their finger out and take radical steps to get their ship in order.  Unfortunately in all likelihood, Legia’s financial might and the psychological weaknesses of their challengers, means that they will probably win the league again this season.  But I don’t think that would be a good thing.

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