We knew it was coming, the media knew it was coming too. He knew himself that only a massive result could save him; whilst the players seemingly knew that by rolling over and conceding three that they’d be rid of him. Ever since Jose Mari Bakero joined the Railwaymen after his ill-fated stint under Józef Wojciechowski at Polonia Warszawa, it’s been a steady downward spiral for Lech Poznań.
Although most well known for his stint as captain of Catalan giants Barcelona, Bakero had previously spent a fantastic eight years at Real Sociedad – helping them to their first ever League Title in 1981, and following it up with their second during the next season. He also helped Sociedad to their only other major trophies – the 1982 Super Cup, and the 1987 Copa del Rey – before making his way south to the Camp Nou.
As a member of the Blaugrana, Bakero lifted even more trophies; winning the Primera Division, Copa del Rey and Super Cup multiple times, as well as the Cup Winners’ Cup, European Cup and the UEFA Super Cup during his 260 appearances.
Despite his fantastic record – including 30 caps for Spain – as a player, Bakero’s senior managerial career began in difficult circumstances. After a short stint at Mexico’s Puebla FC back in 1999, his first job in his homeland was to help Malaga’s B-Team to escape relegation to the third tier; and upon succeeding, the Spaniard was courted by former club Real Sociedad as a Director of Football.
After just 5 months in the role, the Basque-born Bakero was promoted into the club’s vacant manager’s position. But his seventeen games in charge served as a baptism of fire, with his side only picking up a total of fourteen points; leading to his dismissal seven games into the 2006-07 season.
After a brief spell assisting former Barca team-mate Ronald Koeman at Valencia, Józef Wojciechowski brought Bakero to Poland to manage bottom-of-the-table Polonia. Arguably, his time at Polonia was successful – helping the club to avoid the drop, and also presiding over the Czarne Koszule’s first win over cross-town rivals Legia in ten years. However, annoyed by the owner’s constant interference in team matters (forcing Bakero to drop players, and installing Directors of Football without his knowledge); the coach resigned his position during the summer of 2010.
Fearing he’d made a mistake, Bakero was quick to ask Wojciechowski for his job back. Wojciechowski accepted Bakero’s apology and allowed him back to the club, only to fire him after Polonia had picked up ten points from their first five games of the season.
The Lech Poznań board saw Bakero as the ideal replacement for their recently-dismissed boss Jacek Zieliński; and just over seven weeks after leaving Konwiktorską, Bakero was installed as the new boss at Ulica Bułgarska.
Despite starting out with arguably the best result of his tenure – a 3-1 home Europa League victory over Manchester City – an inconsistent Spring round saw Lech finish the season down in fifth position, and failing to qualify for the competition in which they had reached the last-32. The Kolejorz were also denied silverware by a Legia Warszawa side who were able to hold there nerve in a Puchar Polski penalty-shootout in Bydgoszcz. Much criticism was aimed at Bakero’s management of the club, with many Lech supporters directing their anger towards his inability to change the tactics of the team during games.
Despite the disappointments, Bakero had done enough in his short time at the club to convince the board that he was the right man to take Lech Poznań forward; but with no money in the transfer coffers, strengthening the squad was done on a budget. Even though only CSKA Sofia’s Aleskandyr Tonev and relegated Arka Gdynia’s Marciano Bruma were brought into the squad for the new season, a much improved display was expected from Bakero’s men – and without the distraction of European competition, the rejuvenated Lech got off to a perfect start with a 5-0 demolition of newly-promoted ŁKS.
A score-draw away at a highly-fancied Zagłębie Lubin was followed by consecutive 3-0 victories, against Bełchatów and Ruch Chorzów – Bakero had helped Lech to put their problems behind them. Or so it had seemed…
In Lech’s next fixture – away to Górnik Zabrze – the wheels started to come off of the Lech locomotive. A 2-1 victory for the Trójkolorowi was to kick-start a poor spell for Lech; with just one win coming from four games. Despite a small recovery against lowly Cracovia and mid-table Korona, the Wiara Lecha were again calling for the head of Bakero following a 5-game run without a win.
Lech did go into the winter break on the back of two victories; but with these coming against two of the bottom three sides, confidence in the manager was still at an all-time low. With attendances dwindling mostly in protest at Bakero’s reign, and with rumours of 18-goal Artjom Rudnev leaving in winter, and Semir Stilic confirming that he wasn’t to renew his contract; Lech fans began to wonder what the future held for their club.
In January – after receiving a letter from the Lech supporters’ club – the Kolejorz board were forced to issue declare their position on Bakero. At a meeting between club officials and fans, the board confirmed that Bakero didn’t have their complete backing; and should he fail early in the Spring, or fail to earn a European spot, the former Spanish International would be relieved of his duties.
With the resumption of the Ekstraklasa in mid-February, and everyone knowing that dropping points at home to lowly Bełchatów would almost certainly see Bakero on his way out; a poor Kolejarz performance was the last thing expected. But nevertheless, a late Dawid Nowak clinched victory for the visitors in front of a miserly 10,700 Poznań crowd – a far cry from the 42-and-a-half thousand which witnessed his first game in charge.
If the Bełchatów result wasn’t quite enough to get Bakero packing his bags, a spineless performance in Friday’s trip to Ruch Chorzów certainly sealed his fate. Lech were two-nil down by half-time, putting in a performance compared to that of a Sunday pub league team.
Maciej Jankowski delivered the final blow just after the break as Ruch ran out 3-0 victors; but it was the Lech players who had put the final nail in Bakero’s coffin. Whether they had played poorly to make sure of their manager’s fate is up for speculation, but on their performances it would surprise few if it turned out to be the case.
With former Jagiellonia, ŁKS and Aris Thessaloniki boss Michał Probierz the favourite to take over the reins – a deal already done according to some reports – it is a mystery where Lech will go from here. Whoever does come in will be much more appreciated by the fans – and also likely the players – than his predecessor; but catching the top three would almost require a miracle.
The new boss is in an unenviable position, with a board and fan-base expecting Lech to progress to title-challengers next season. But with a lack of money at the club, and a number of key players on their way out, they will have to rely on youth to do so.
Bakero and his reputation meanwhile, have now been tarnished in Poland. Whilst his time at Polonia had seemed unfortunate, his spell in Poznań will always be looked at as disastrous. Another job may come calling, but it would be surprising if Jose Mari was given another chance in the Ekstraklasa any time soon.