2012 – The Year of Losers

Overshadowed slightly by hope and positives of the second part of the year – mainly because of spectacular Zbigniew Boniek’s win in PZPN elections – Polish football in twelve months of 2012 was marked by losers and defeats. Awaited with huge hopes and connecting millions of fans all over the world, when the focus was on Poland they… we have failed miserably. EKSTRAKLASAreview is pointing out at those who struggled the most and gladly have put the 2012 behind them.

Grzegorz Lato was so sure that Poland will not struggle at Euro 2012 that he made a rather careless statement, promising own resignation from PZPN presidency as soon as Smuda’s squad fails to move out of group A. Glowing with happiness, cherishing every moment of his time among UEFA family, Lato observed as his and Poland’s reputation crumbles against Greece, Russia and Czech Republic. As it later turned out, Euro 2012 was only an excuse for his federation – mainly for his friends that were given prestigious spots at PZPN – to make business and even move money out of the budget. All is slowly revealed by new president and his people and Lato may face official charges relating to federation’s new headquarters – an investment that was already put on hold by Boniek. Other deals are checked as well as more and more evidences come out that Lato’s cabinet used their time to get rich, not make domestic football better. If there is one person that may pay full price for that, then it is former goalscorer.

He was so desperate to get out of Poland, move on from ferocious critique and blame for Euro failure, that Franciszek Smuda resigned on wait for another chance at Wisła Krakow to sign for 2. Bundesliga strugglers SSV Jahn Regensburg. However the wages may have made the difference as well, he clearly hoped to prove himself in his own country, prove that there is much more in him than the much debatable collapse of his project in the summer of 2012. Building the team for two years, his job was defined by three games from which none of the positives can be taken. Smuda’s comments afterwards took some battering as well – he claimed that he wouldn’t change anything given the second chance, that he leaves his successor a well-prepared team and refuses to take this early exit from Euro’s easiest group as a national tragedy. But his collapse should be shown by reaction of those with whom he worked closely to bring the success for tournament’s co-hosts. Robert Lewandowski openly criticized Smuda for fitness preparations, while his assistant, Jacek Zieliński said that Smuda claims afterwards are pure nonsense. “There is always something you want to change after such failure,” Zieliński claimed. Looking back at 2012, Smuda may finally agree that he made mistakes. If not – that will only add to the failure at his career’s biggest challenge.

There are people around that have seen Wisła Krakow battling well and hard against the likes of Parma, Lazio and Schalke 04. While the latter are now famously knocking around in the Champions League, Wisła is now fifth from the bottom in Ekstraklasa and if it wouldn’t be for simply awful Podbeskidzie and Bełchatow, fans of “the White Star” would face nothing less but a relegation battle. Squad is not that bad – after all, they were just minutes from the Champions League in 2011 ! – but there may be no better example of how badly negative attitude of players, driven by money, not ambition, can hit a football club of such status as Wisła once had. This, also, is down to mismanagement on larger scale – the owner reluctance to provide money for academy and youth coaching, the directors doing strange deals with players way beyond their best times, managers who couldn’t put through their ideas and simply were not up for the job. Fans – fleeing in numbers from the stadium over last year – could only wish for total demolition of current side and building something new that would be close to Wisła’s standards. Once they were up at the very top of the league, now, in a rather realistic approach of director Jacek Bednarz, they aim for top half of the table. A nightmare that 2012 was, it may not end with the arrival of 2013, sadly.

All eyes were on Michał Probierz when he left struggling ŁKS Łódź at the end of 2011 to take over at Thessaloniki and Aris, his first foreign challenge in managerial career. So rarely a domestic coach is given a chance to work abroad that Probierz’s reputation rose instantly and the fans, media were again discussing about his talent and future – reaching the national team, obviously. But just few days into 2012 and his Greece connection was broken – he failed to make an impact he wanted, while disjointed squad become even more frustrated at his selection and managerial methods. It was only a beginning of his poorest year so far, one that showed all his defects. Given the job at Wisła Krakow he failed to inject more direct approach on the pitch, with players unconvinced over his sometimes truculent treatment. Results were only getting worse and there was not even a sign of himself establishing at Krakow. The departure early in the new season was sad demonstration of his biggest chance in Poland so far, one that went begging. He was nervous and up there to prove his own worth again but agreeing to join GKS Belchatow was nothing more than an act of desperation. He left them just after month and a half into his two-year deal, while their league status has barely changed for the better. Michał Probierz is up for a job again and surely will take anything now that Ekstraklasa clubs will throw at him – but if he wants to have a much better 2013 than his 2012 was, then surely Polish Cup and Supercup winner with Jagiellonia must accept his own faults at Wisła and in every previous job.

Beginning the 2012 as the leaders of the table, even eventually reaching for the much-desired title, Śląsk Wroclaw is now rather a laughing stock than a new force in Polish football. When the 1-0 win in Krakow settled their championship race, there was on plan on what to do afterwards. When summer began, Śląsk lost several key-players and reinforcements proved not only to be too weak to compete in Europe, but also to fight for top spots in Poland again. Squads conflict with manager Orest Lenczyk reached its critical limits and the latter was gone just few rounds in, but arrival of Stanislav Levy – unknown Czech personality, albeit a title winner in Albania that year, too – barely injected hope into fans’ hearts. Last months of the team were simply awful – defeat in local derby to Zagłębie Lubin at home was only a start, but when Łukasz Gikiewicz accused Patrik Mraz of arriving for the training drunk, things were taken to a new level. Gikiewicz twins (Łukasz and his brother Rafał) were simply denied a place in the squad, while Mraz was released shortly after the incident. The following club’s and team’s statements were just a show of atrocious PR and made the whole country laugh at Śląsk. With conflict between the owners – city of Wroclaw and one of media-magnates in Poland – on the financing of the club, there is not enough funds to overhaul the squad that is one of the oldest in the league. Summer will also bring the end to Sebastian Mila’s career at Śląsk, where he is still a true leader. Although Polish champions are still up for the European spots this year, they will look at 2012 with rather mixed feelings – the title was a fantastic moment but it brought only further embarrassment – in Europe, in Ekstraklasa and off the pitch as well.

Playing (rarely) alongside Eden Hazard at Lille in the first part of 2012, then changing for Ekstraklasa strugglers Podbeskidzie – Ireneusz Jeleń could not had a bigger slide of his career than that. Once highly regarded striker, one of best in Ligue 1, he run away from his new club in Poland after failing to score even once after his remarkable and despairing comeback to Ekstraklasa. He had a 1000PLN (about 200 pounds) release clause in his contract just few years after media were discussing multi-million deals for his services with English, Italian and Spanish clubs interested in (then) Auxerre striker. But when he arrived in Bielsko-Biała to save the league status for Podbeskidzie, he embarrassed himself with awful finishing, lack of pace, diving skills. And it was last game there that defined his comeback – manager Marcin Sasal was so desperate with his commitment that it took him only 55 minutes to put Fabian Pawela in his place. And the substitute, whose experience reaches as far as lower leagues in Greece, put much more effort in remaining time, also putting the ball in the net – something that Jeleń was unable to do in the whole of 2012.


One response to “2012 – The Year of Losers

  1. Despite the negative tones of the article it is well researched. While born in the UK of Polish parents I took great pride in the way the country hosted EURO 2012. Thats were it all stopped. I along with the whole Polish nation wanted more although at the back on my mind was this nagging fear of failure on the pitch and so it came to be.

    Wisla, my Polish club since my first visit in 1973, have paid the price for poor investment (academy etc…). Even Garbania have a more impressive haul of potential young talent. Like the stock market and property crashes of recent years this was always on the cards. Wisla lived beyond its means and while it gave us a lot of excitement over the past 10-15 years….the current generation of Wislacy will have to get used to more mediocre results until this whole current set up is dismantled. It may take several years before we are challenging again but at the moment we can thank our lucky stars that there are a few teams worse than us. It would be quite an embarressment to swap places with Cracovia!!

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