Will Ekstraklasa clubs’ struggles benefit the National Team?

How many times over the last few years have we seen Ekstraklasa clubs in financial troubles? We’ve had ŁKS Łódź’s near-bankruptcy last winter, and Korona Kielce’s troubles during the summer. We’ve seen both GKS Bełchatów and Górnik Zabrze in bother recently, whilst even the bigger clubs are not safe – Legia Warszawa and Wisła Kraków have both recently had well-documented struggles in the finance department. In fact, the words “financial troubles” and “Ekstraklasa” now seem to be put together more often than “Sergei Pareiko” and “mistake”.

The lack of cash in the league is currently a major problem. Clubs are being forced to sell key players in order to keep their finances in check, others are struggling to even pay their staff at all. With the poor state of finances, it is becoming extremely difficult for teams to bring in quality players from abroad, or in some cases, any players at all.

With incoming transfers becoming fewer and fewer, many Ekstraklasa sides have been almost forced to look towards their youth set-ups for cheaper talent. With it now being mandatory for clubs to have a youth academy in order to gain an Ekstraklasa license, the next few years could see a wealth of Polish talent coming through the ranks.

Legia Warszawa are known throughout Poland for their youth academy. In recent years, they have produced a number of players who have gone on to bigger and better things. Ariel Borysiuk has found his way to Kaiserslautern in Germany, and also is now a regular in the Polish National team; whilst another young Legia talent, Maciej Rybus, is now impressing for Russian club Terek Grozny as well as the Białe-Orły.

Now the next wave of stars is beginning to come through the Wojskowi ranks, with Rafał Wolski the most promising name. Before the summer, the 19-year old was linked with moves to top European clubs, and even found his way into Franciszek Smuda’s Euro 2012 squad; though an injury has kept him out of action so far this season.

However, it isn’t just Wolski making waves at Legia; youth is being brought into the squad at every opportunity. 20-year old Michał Żyro broke into the Legia side back in the 2010/11 season, and has netted twice in three league appearances this term. Recently, Żyro also found his performances attracting the attention of Italian side Lazio. Another 20-year old – Dominik Furman – has also netted twice this term, including a stunner at Górnik Zabrze; whilst 21-year old Michał Kucharczyk and 22-year old Jakub Kosecki have also impressed.

But whilst Legia have the biggest, and most well-known academy, that doesn’t mean that other clubs are unable to bring through their own talent. Many clubs are currently finding their finances in such a poor state that youth is the only way forward for them; and Poland’s youth crop is one of the most fruitful in years because of it.

Górnik Zabrze are another side benefiting from their youth whilst dealing with crippling finances. With the club desperate to offload a number of key players, it is their young stars which are stealing many of the headlines – most notably 21-year old goalkeeper Łukasz Skorupski and 18-year old striker Arkadiusz Milik.

Young keeper Skorupski came through the Górnik ranks, and quickly found himself thrust into the first team following coach Adam Nawałka’s falling-out with first choice keeper Adam Stachowiak. With a début season attracting the attention European clubs such as Hoffenheim and Everton, Skorupski was hailed as one of the most promising keepers in the country. With Górnik slapping a €1 million price tag across his head, the summer passed without any sign of a deal; and his start to the 2012/12 season has continued to impress – most notably with National coach Waldemar Fornalik, who called him into the squad to face England.

Still a few years younger than his team-mate Skorupski, young Arek Milik was unheard of when he was thrust into the Górnik starting line-up on the opening day of the 2011/12 season. Having signed from fourth-tier Rozwoj Katowice during the summer, Nawałka clearly saw something in the teenager. Although it took until April 2012 to grab his first goal – eventually getting a brace against Korona Kielce – Milik had found his way into the Under-21 national team by June.

<Since his return to action for the 2012/13 season, Milik has been in blistering form for Górnik, netting five goals in just seven appearances. His performances have led to many hailing him as the “new Włodzimierz Lubański” – a massive honour for anyone associated with Górnik Zabrze – and he has attracted attention from clubs including Everton, Liverpool, Fulham, Anderlecht and Schalke. Following the diagnosis of Marek Saganowski’s heart condition, Milik found himself fast-tracked into Fornalik’s Poland squad to face England alongside his team-mates Skorupski and Adam Danch.

After almost being wiped out of existence in the summer, Polonia Warszawa have impressed many this season with their impressive performances; and it has been two of their young stars who have been integral to their showing. The attacking threat of winger Paweł Wszołek and striker Łukasz Teodorczyk have netted a combined 9 times in the same number of games to help the capital’s second club reach as high as second in the Ekstraklasa table.

>20-year old Wszołek’s performances even caught the eye of the national team boss; and when captain Jakub Błaszczykowski was ruled out of the England game through injury, Wszołek was the man who filled his massive boots. Whilst the slightly older Teodorczyk hasn’t yet made an appearance for the Białe-Orły, his recent showing for the Czarne Koszule have led to some journalists tipping him to replace the injured Arkadiusz Piech in Fornalik’s squad to face Uruguay later this month.

After helping Poland’s Under-17 side to a third-place finish during the 2012 European Championships, Widzew Łódź striker Mariusz Stępiński was tipped by many as one to watch out for in the future. Having made one start and seven substitute appearances during 2011/12, Widzew’s inability to spend in the summer has led to 17-year old Stępiński appearing in every one of the club’s nine league games off of the bench – even becoming the club’s youngest ever scorer with a second-half equaliser against Górnik Zabrze.

Clubs who have seen fairly recent successes, such as 2010 champions Lech Poznań and their successors Wisła Kraków, are also currently suffering financial difficulties. After winning their respective titles, both sides have been forced to get rid of some bigger-named players, and are now looking towards youth to rebuild for their futures. Whilst Lech look towards players such as Marcin Kamiński, Mateusz Możdżen, Patryk Wolski and Bartosz Bereszyński; Wisła also have some young talent to call on, with Michał Chrapek and Michał Szewczyk making their way into the Biała Gwiazda first team.

With money currently leaking out of almost every Polish top-flight club, the inability to bring in top players to a growing league is having a detrimental effect on Polish football. Without these big names, it remains to be seen how the league can continue to develop at a time where foreign interest in the league is at an all-time high. However with the lack of money being spent on playing staff, clubs are beginning to understand the importance of developing youth; and that is something that will only benefit the future of the Polish national team.

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