Times are difficult at Polonia Bytom. It has been well-documented in the past that the side from the Upper-Silesian municipality has struggled financially; and their relegation from the Ekstraklasa last summer has only added to the problems of the Niebiesko-Czerwone. Numerous players left the Edward Szymkowiak Stadium in the summer, as the budget was slashed to try to make ends meet. Only a handful of Polonia’s relegated team remained at the club to fight in the second-tier.
To begin the new season, Bytom’s lack of cash meant that they were made to bring through a number of youngsters into their squad; and despite a tough and disappointing start, one of these players has stood head and shoulders above many of the experienced players in the I Liga.
After just three goals for the Młoda Ekstraklasa team during 2010/11, 18-year old striker Jakub Świerczok was not expected to become Polonia’s saviour. The coaching team in Bytom clearly knew that the Tychy-born teenager had a talent, but his impact on the senior team could hardly have been predicted.
Season-opening losses away to Pogoń Szczecin, and at home to both Warta Poznań and Piast Gliwice left Bytom stuck to the bottom of the table. It looked like it would become even worse for the club, as in their fourth game Sandecja Nowy Sącz took a 2-0 lead just after half-time. But a second-half turn around saw Bytom pick up their first three points of the season, with young Świerczok grabbing the important equaliser in the 77th minute, before fellow youth-product Robert Wojsyk scored a late winner.
Since the Round Four tie in Nowy Sącz, Świerczok has bagged a further 11 goals – including hat-tricks against both GKS Katowice and Olimpia Grudziądz – making him the top scorer in the I Liga going into the winter break. However despite his impressive tally, Świerczok’s goals have only helped Bytom to 12 points in their first 20 games. Without his goals, the Blue-Reds have only managed a further 4 points – all of them coming from draws. The sixteen points earned so far leaves Bytom sitting second from bottom, and 5 points from the safety of 14th position.
Jakub’s prowess in front of goal has made him one of the most exciting prospects to come out of Poland in recent years; and on the very first day of 2012, the striker was confirmed as a player for struggling German Bundesliga club Kaiserslautern. Whilst the reported €420,000 transfer fee will be of massive help to Polonia’s balance sheet, a huge question remains over whether the loss of their star striker will effectively seal the club’s relegation.
Świerczok’s has netted his 12 goals this season in just 18 games; but Bytom are struggling for goals from elsewhere, with their 8 remaining goals coming from 6 different scorers – and one of them being an own goal. Both 23-year-old Daniel Mąka and 21-year-old Robert Wojsyk are aiming to become the permanent replacement for Germany-bound Świerczok; but with just three goals in 18 starts between them, it will remain to be seen whether they are up to the task of saving the club from the drop.
Bringing new faces into the club may be a possibility for Bytom; but their financial situation doesn’t allow for much room in the budget, even with the sale of their young striker. With much of the incoming money going straight back out to settle debts and to pay for the club’s winter training camp in Turkey, Polonia may have to settle with loans or lower-league signings to strengthen their numbers this winter.
One thing that Bytom do have on their side though is time – the Polish transfer window stretches on until the end of February due to the extended winter break in the country. There is no doubt that coach Dariusz Fornalak will be keen to address the Świerczok-shaped gap in the squad during the next two months, but how well the gap is plugged may well be a different matter completely. Whilst uncovering the next Jakub Świerczok will be hugely beneficial to the club in the long term, for the time being everyone in Bytom will be more than satisfied with someone who can hit the net often enough to climb the club into the safety of 14th place.