Relegation Battle Over

If there were awards in the world of football for the worst managed club in Europe, then surely GKS Bełchatów and Podbeskidzie Bielsko-Biała would be in contention for the top prize. Here are the teams that, last season, have found themselves in the bottom half of Ekstraklasa table yet in safety with distance that was signalling there are things done right in their world of low league ambition.

However, six months in this season and point result combined would still have them at the bottom of Ekstraklasa, three points off next rivals. With two worst goal records, Podbeskidzie and GKS are not only likely to go down – they should look at 1. Liga and prepare themselves for a new reality – especially financial one – not to make their drop even more spectacular.

It is very hard to find anything what was not hilarious about their performances this autumn. GKS was in constant demolition with players easily transferred from the youth team to the senior one and back, contracts terminated, protests held, threats voiced loudly and managers changed quickly. Kamil Kiereś was not even allowed to wait for his first point of the season when Jan Złomańczuk stepped in – then, when older yet less respected coach was simply thrown out of Michal Probierz way, new hope arose. It lasted just few weeks, as Probierz stepped down as a form of protest, along with GKS’ chairman.

You would think that no one could repeat such mismanagement at the highest tier of Polish football? Now that was a challenge that Podbeskidzie fully accepted. Starting off the season with Robert Kasperczyk, a man who promoted the club to the top for the first time in their history, it was just a matter of time when results became unbearable for the board and explanations too lazy for the fans – Marcin Sasal stepped in. He hardly improved things and when the new year came, he showed himself in Bielsko-Biała just once. To pack the bags and wave his goodbyes, as he couldn’t reach agreement with the board of which direction Podbeskidzie should take from now on. Surely, the only answer is down?

Examples of their ability to make people laugh are all around us. Ireneusz Jeleń, the man who used to share the pitch with Eden Hazard and Joe Cole – even play football with them! – was signed as a Podbeskidzie saviour. The only thing worth mentioning was one awful dive, one so truly comical that not even home fans trusted him. His time in Bielsko-Biała came to an end even without any potential bidders triggering the release clause in his contract – a quite staggering sum of £200. To sum up the hilarity of the situation, Podbeskidzie only recently asked Jeleń’s people whether he would be willing to jump on their sinking ship again. And listen to this – the once highly regarded striker may be willing to take that “chance”.

Bełchatów had their worst moment at home – thankfully they average only just over 1600 people at their games – when they faced Polonia Warszawa in the snow. Kamil Kosowski probably still has nightmares about this game – put in the left-back, once cheeky winger has shown why this was the best idea in the world. Subbed before 40th minute mark, when GKS was 0-3 down, he was straight away send to the reserves. Kosowski only bothered to just few training sessions with his new, younger team-mates, before sending sick leave to the club and vowing to never put his foot in Bełchatów again.

Bełchatów was also hit by corruption affair, when they had to release four vital players – the ones who once were allegedly involved in the match-fixing process. Then other players went to the federation’s court wanting to have their deals terminated for long payment delays, as atmosphere sank to the levels deeper than their points record. Just to add – it were the last days before the season has started when GKS found out that the locally based power-plant company will support them financially for one more year, as the summer was spent on nervous calculating and balancing the budget.

Despite the dramatic situation both clubs found themselves at the end of 2012, there was some hope. At least Marcin Sasal had it, knowing that Podbeskidzie and the city of Bielsko-Biała will support him with money, only to stay in the league where fans would fill at least half of the new stadium that is under construction. With gates at average of poor 2600, there is a little hope the crowds will come when Podbeskidzie enters a ground five times bigger than what they have now. But Sasal worked and worked hard on the transfer market, believing that only experience of older players may give his team a slim chance. Ekstraklasa old-boys Rachwał, Telichowski and Radzewicz were approached and even went through medicals, but someone in the board said no.

“We don’t want to become second Odra Wodzisław”, said the chairmen Wojciech Borecki, echoing the tragic fall of one of better Silesian sides in last decade. Odra, after similarly poor autumn, decided to build a team for large sum of money, out of experienced players like goalkeeper Arkadiusz Onyszko. But, despite brave fight, they dropped to the 1. Liga, and now are at one of the lowest tiers in Poland. Podbeskidzie wants to prepare themselves, so Borecki, only when he heard about Sasal plans, stopped the proposed moves claiming there must be a better plan. The manager wasn’t happy and faced the axe only in few days time – Borecki turned to Dariusz Kubicki, a man who wasn’t working in the Ekstraklasa for past six years of which some part he spent in Novosibirsk, working as an assistant and coach at Russian Sibir. He was chosen because he was the only one to nod when Borecki voiced his ideas.

Bełchatów is trying to be equally prepared for the drop. The board decided that there is no point in looking at more glamorous managerial names – or at least equal to Michał Porbierz’s one – and put the much familiar face in the empty spot. Kamil Kiereś is back at Bełchatów, just dozen of rounds after he was thrown out. “I’m much wiser regarding many issues, mostly off-the-pitch ones,” he said following his comeback. “The situations changed diametrically, for approximately 360 degrees.” Drastically lowering number of GKS fans may only hope that Kiereś will be much better at preparing his side than he is at rhetorics and maths.

“I don’t think there will be much of changes,” Dariusz Kubicki hopes. He should, to be honest, as it is only a week from the official press conference at which Podbeskidzie handed out the list of “11” unwanted players, with – wait for it – Ireneusz Jeleń topping it. “I have seen players for the first time last Saturday, when we organized a little test game for them,” Kubicki says. “There is some potential. Everything is possible.” If only Podbeskidzie could play themselves every week, then why not?

Managerial changes, wholesale clear ups, corruption in the background, reinforcements coming only from the lower leagues and preparations for the drop come with statements of slim hope for survival, somehow voiced with straight face. Somewhere in between the reality Podbeskidzie and GKS find themselves nowadays, there is an answer to the problem of the league system and how the future should look for the Ekstraklasa. With the widely discussed (in the latest Ekstraklasa Magazine, for example) proposal on changes from the next season put firmly on hold, there might be a good idea to create a league with 14 clubs.

It is another year which starts with relegation battle settled just half-way through the season and while the ideas are discussed, future 1.Liga outfits have their say on the Ekstraklasa that is beyond their reach. Looking through Bełchatów’s and Podbeskidzie’s squads there is another point to be taken into consideration – do we have enough of good or perhaps average players that could fill sixteen squads? Clearly, taking the every record, every stat and every minute of the season so far of firm relegations spots holders, Poland may be just a little bit too short of that. When you will put yourself through the relegation 30-pointer on the weekend of 20-21st April between these two sides, you will know what is meant by that.

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