Since being released by French club Lille in the summer, former Polish international Ireneusz Jeleń has struggled to find a club. Since announcing that he would love to end his career playing for his beloved Górnik Zabrze, Irek has been constantly linked with a move back to his motherland; firstly with Górnik, and then both Jagiellonia Białystok and Lech Poznań. And then when Jeleń was pictured in the stands for Górnik’s Ekstraklasa away trip to Podbeskidzie Bielsko-Biała, the rumour mill went into overdrive about the 31-year old returning to Silesia. Whilst they may have been right on that front, it seems that those creating the rumours may have been looking slightly in the wrong direction.
With developments ongoing over the last few days, it is now emerging that the 29-cap striker will be likely heading back to Poland; but rather than signing for 14-time champions Górnik, he may be heading to their round 7 opponents, Podbeskidzie!
Playing only their second season in the Polish top-flight, the Górale were not the obvious candidates to secure Jeleń’s signature. In fact, it’s possible that many of the assembled journalists would have scoffed at the idea when he was pictured in the small city of Bielsko-Biała. After all of the previous speculation surrounding a possible move to Górnik, it probably didn’t cross anybody’s mind that he could be heading to “the White city”.
Having not played a competitive game since April, the 2009 Polish Player of the Year is unlikely to have be too fussy about where he ended up; although with his form attracting no offers from French clubs, a move back to Poland makes a lot of sense. Whilst he openly admitted that a move to Górnik would have been his primary choice, Podbeskidzie also seems a logical move – even if it seems strange. Jeleń was born and raised in the border town of Cieszyn, just a thirty minute drive from Bielsko-Biała; and his family still live in the area.
In footballing terms, Podbeskidzie makes sense too for the striker. A short-term deal with the club offers him a chance to build his form at a slightly easier level than in Ligue 1; and when his contract expires, he will hope to have done enough to either earn a new deal at the club, or a move elsewhere. Also, with national team boss Waldemar Fornalik increasingly looking to the Ekstraklasa during his squad selections, some good performances could bring Jeleń back into contention for the Białe-Orły.
It also makes sense for the club; they get a recognised striker on a free transfer to help them out of the mess which they are currently in. If they should fail to stay in the Ekstraklasa, they then don’t have to keep a player earning massive wages.
Even with the help of Jeleń, staying in the Ekstraklasa is going to be a difficult ask for Podbeskidzie. After their reasonably impressive performances over the last few years, they have now reached the point where they will find it difficult to progress much further. Without a win in their opening seven games, only home draws against Śląsk and Wisła keep them above Bełchatów and off of the bottom spot. And whilst they have hit the back of the net exactly once in every league game this season, they do need someone who can go out and win them games, rather than helping them settle for a point.
Though Jeleń’s form at Lille was disappointing (just a single goal in 13 league appearances), he does have a history of goalscoring. During a five-year stint at Auxerre, he netted 48 times in 140 games; whilst previously he scored 45 times in 100 games in the Polish top flight, for a Wisła Płock side who went on to lift the 2006 Puchar Polski. Whether he can replicate his previous form will make a huge difference to whether Podbeskidzie can survive in the Ekstraklasa for another term.
The club’s best chance for a win so far comes on Saturday against bottom-of-the-table Bełchatów, but with Jelen’s signing too late for him to be included in the squad for the game, Podbeskidzie will be relying on three-goal striker Robert Demjan to lead the line. And with rumours flying around that a defeat will see the end of coach Robert Kasperczak’s near-three-year reign, the arrival of Jeleń could just be a little too late to save him.
But with well over two-thirds of the Ekstraklasa season remaining, there still could be plenty of time for the striker to help save the club from the dreaded drop back to the Pierwsza Liga.