Despite the threat of four rounds of voting, it eventually took just two rounds in Friday’s PZPN Presidential elections before a new leader was crowned. With Stefan Antkowiak’s 10 votes eliminated in round one, fans’ favourite Zbigniew Boniek had convinced a large proportion of Antkowiak’s supporters, as well as some of the delegates voting for either Kręcina and Kosecki, to jump over to his ship during round two. And at around 17:50 local time, with 2 votes over the required 59, Zibi was confirmed as the football association’s new head.
Having played a huge part in helping Poland to pick-up third place at the 1982 World Cup in Spain, and then returning to the national set-up as manager twenty years later; the 56-year old now returns to his homeland with his toughest challenge ahead – changing the image of the PZPN amongst the supporters.
Replacing his former international team-mate Grzegorz Lato (of whom Boniek is known to be a massive critric), the former Juventus, Roma and Widzew Łódź attacker is best-placed to do this. Still a national hero, despite spending his most recent years living in the sunnier climes of Italy, a recent Przegląd Sportowy poll showed that 78% of supporters would have chosen Boniek – a good friend of UEFA boss Michel Platini – ahead of the other candidates; whilst a poll at the time of writing currently shows that 77% believe that he can make positive changes in Polish football.
Under Lato’s rule the PZPN managed to alienate and frustrate many supporters – it’s of no wonder that faith in the association is at an all time low. The inability to organise the 2011 Polish Super Cup game between Legia Warszawa and Wisła Kraków will go down as one of the bigger scandals, whilst the 2012 edition between Legia and Śląsk Wrocław eventually being staged at Legia’s home ground – with the participation of just a handful of Śląsk supporters – almost made it feel as though the PZPN just couldn’t be bothered with the domestic game, or didn’t care about the fans at all.
Then there was the poor organisation of the Polish Cup Final (Tuesday Afternoon in Kielce), the at-times farcical preparations for Euro 2012, and even allegations from Sports Minister Joanna Mucha that Lato himself was involved in bribery. The outgoing regime has hardly shrouded itself in glory during the last four years, but Boniek is eager to stress that his vision of Polish football is completely different.
“I do not want to walk away in four years time in an atmosphere like which Grzegorz Lato has” claimed Boniek to the assembled reporters in Warsaw, “However I don’t judge his tenure. Let’s say that simply, a certain stage is over.”
It seems that the new president is keen to transform the image of Polish football, from a game emerging from the after-effects of communism, to one of Europe’s up-and-coming leagues. With his history as one of the best, if not, the best player to come from Poland, Boniek has a reputation which he will be eager not to let fade away. Due to his highly successful spell in Italy, Bydgoszcz-born Zibi also has a high standing outside of his homeland – one that many will be hoping he can use to help to establish the country’s football league abroad.
Distancing himself from the former regime also seems to be high on Boniek’s list of priorities. Whilst in charge Lato was criticised for taking his huge salary, whilst huge hospitality events and freebies were the norm. Large numbers of tickets were given to executives and friends for high profile games (Euro 2012, Poland v England, and much more), and although the actions were widely criticised by many, in reality no-one expected any different from the PZPN. However, in complete contrast to his predecessor, Boniek stated during the run-up to the elections that if he was elected and given a choice, he wouldn’t accept payment from the PZPN.
Despite only just taking control of the PZPN, Zibi has a strong vision for the future of Polish football, and has already announced a complete re-haul in the association’s staff. Most notably, former Polish international Marek Kozmiński – who also spent time playing in both Italy and Greece – has been placed in charge of Foreign Affairs; whilst another former star, and one of Boniek’s challengers Roman Kosecki, has been handed a role focusing on Youth Development and training.
Whilst a large number of supporters do believe that although there are new faces in charge there will be no real changes in the grand scheme of things, there are still many who feel that a change in personnel within the PZPN will kick-start a new era on Polish football.
Whilst Zibi has four years to implement his vision for the country’s game, there will be some who want big changes made very quickly. That may not necessarily be realistic, but if Boniek wants to cement his position in Polish football history rather than tarnish it as Lato has, he now has to make his actions speak louder than his words.