It’s been over four weeks now since the doors to the winter transfer window swung open; and whilst most of the Ekstraklasa’s clubs have opened their chequebooks, the doors have so far been wedged shut at Ulica Bułgarska. With Lech Poznań trying to force their way into the Ekstraklasa’s European spots, they are a club who could probably do with a little strengthening to help to push them above the line.
Following last-season’s disappointing Puchar Polski final loss to Legia, and their – possibly even more disappointing – fifth-placed Ekstraklasa finish; dissenting voices could be heard from the stands at the Stadion Miejski, many believing that coach Jose Mari Bakero was not up to the task ahead.
After their previous season’s heroics to qualify from a Europa League group containing Red Bull Salzburg, Juventus and Manchester City; the club’s failure to qualify for European competition was a bitter pill to swallow for the Kolejorz fans. It was a pill made even more bitter after both. Jagiellonia Białystok and Śląsk Wrocław both exited the competition in the qualifying rounds.
The lack of European football also meant that there was little money for Bakero to spend in the summer transfer market – Bulgarian Aleksandyr Tonev’s arrival from CSKA Sofia being Lech’s biggest capture of the transfer window. But without the “distraction” of the Europa League campaign which many blamed for the poor Ekstraklasa performance, Lech were expected to challenge for the title which was snatched from their hands by Wisła in May.
Big early wins (5-0 against ŁKS and 3-0 against both Bełchatów and Ruch Chorzów) cemented their place as early favourites to challenge for Wisła’s title. Whilst losses to Górnik Zabrze, Wisła and Śląsk came during the next few months, they always followed them up with big wins. In fact, if it wasn’t for a blip during November that saw Lech pick up just 1 point from three games, Lech could have finished the autumn round in second position.
The Kolejorz eventually finished their autumn round back in fifth place – only three points off of the European places. But had it not been for the goals of Latvian hot-shot Artjom Rudnev, Lech would possibly have finished the first half a lot further down the table…
Of their 29 league goals, 18 of them (62%) have been scored by Rudnev. Should their Latvian striker pick up an injury, Lech’s goals could quickly dry up. Besides Rudnev, no other player has netted more than two league goals for the club this season; and there is a huge question over who could replace the former Zalaegerszeg striker at short notice, should anything happen.
Bakero has already been told that there is no money available for the club to strengthen the squad in the transfer window, and the only way to bring players in will be to get players out of the door. Midfielder Semir Stilic looked the most likely to exit Poznań, but he now will stay until the end of the season to leave on a free transfer once his contract expires. Rudnev has also been touted with a move abroad – most recently to Borussia Moenchengladbach, but Lech managed to hold-off the big clubs until the close of the Major European Leagues’ windows. However much Bakero would have loved to bolster his squad during the remainder of the Polish transfer window, the quickest way to raise cash would have been the sale of €7 million-rated Rudnev. The catch-22 situation for the club is that however welcome that cash would be, they really can’t afford to lose their main striker.
Whilst the “Railwaymen” do already have strength in their squad, they will need to show a little more consistency – and possibly a bigger goal contribution from elsewhere – if they do want to make that push into the top three. This season they face tough competition from Śląsk, Legia, Wisła, Ruch and Polonia for one of the European spots; and one loss could prove to be hugely detrimental during the run-in.
When we do finally reach the summer, regardless of their final league position Lech will surely cash-in on Rudnev; whilst a number of other key players – including Stilić, Grzegorz Wojkowiak and Dimitrije Injać – look to be heading out of the door. But now isn’t the time for Lech to worry about that. Their first concern must be to reach the coveted European places; but if the club continue to rely on Rudnev, it could end up being their biggest downfall.