Managerial changes in Ekstraklasa are indeed like London buses – you wait hours to get one and then few come at one time. When Artur Skowronek was sacked from Pogoń Szczecin on Monday, Wednesday have seen even more surprising change at Podbeskidzie, where Dariusz Kubicki left for a job abroad (in Russia) instead of trying to secure unlikely survival in Bielsko-Biała. The former has been much more controversial with Pogoń still being eleven points ahead of the relegation zone and playing not as bad as recent results suggest. But it is the appointment of new man that attracted more attention to the club, than their recent matches.
Dariusz Wdowczyk’s last job in football was in a consultant role at lower leagues where he could not use his coaching license – banned from the game for fixing games while trying to gain promotion with Korona Kielce in years 2002-2004, he also succeeded afterwards, gaining enough popularity to be signed by Legia Warsaw and, after winning the Polish title, being in line for national team job. However, all was lost when police came knocking on his door on March 28, 2008 and Wdowczyk agreed to cooperate, pleading himself guilty. “We were buying results only because it was the only way to go up – everyone else did it as well,” ex-Celtic and ex-Reading defender claimed in court.
He comes back three years earlier than he was supposed to, having his 7 year long ban reduced in the summer. With several interviews given straight away after receiving his license back, he vowed for fans and clubs not to look at his police records but managerial ones. “I’m still good enough as a coach,” he said at signing contract with Pogoń Szczecin.
Club now faces fans outrage at signing someone who never should be in contention for the place. But there is also disappointment in the way Artur Skowronek was sacked, with different views coming from the board and the manager himself. “We deserved one more chance, one more game,” Skowronek said in an interview with Weszlo.com. “I’m surprised to hear that [ board claims they differed in the long-term vision for Pogoń]. Actually, I think I caught that one pretty quickly. That was one of the reasons I was signed.”
Wdowczyk was desperate for a top-flight job but the comfort zone will come only if Pogoń will get past 30-points mark. Szczecin is one of the least stable work places in Polish football, while the club not only struggles for money, but also for interest of the city and crowds, something that is a long struggle since Pogoń played in European cups a decade ago and attracted around 30,000 fans at least couple of times per season.
Now they find themselves back in the Ekstraklasa but with old problems – literally old, as their leader and captain Edi Andradina is approaching his 40th birthday and looking much less mobile with serious weight problem. Squad is genuinely unbalanced and out of depth with club willing to give the chance to younger generation but without any proper talents coming out of their ranks. As sad as it seems, Skowronek’s work was a fair reflection of how strong Pogoń Szczecin is in their first season back in the Ekstraklasa. Given how young was he when the Pogoń job came – EIGHT years younger than his oldest player, Edi – there was a lot of space for improvement and surely he was the one to deliver it.
In comes Dariusz Wdowczyk, almost a persona non grata of domestic football, someone who will most definitely meet with strong abuse even from Pogoń’s support when he steps onto the pitch for their first game against Lech Poznan. As he worked – or spent money – on that kind of reputation, there will be a lot more to his job than only rescuing what is left of his dignity and class. If he approaches the challenge with aim to prove his critics wrong, then he is lost at the start – it is Pogoń that needs saving, not his Wikipedia page or police records.
The other question is whether Polish football can handle a person who was sentenced and came back to, possibly, succeed and then forgive him for all the past sins? If he somehow was not deprived of his talents in the last five years, then surely Pogoń made the right choice, but there is a lot more from succeeding as a coach to becoming someone worth fans’ trust and positive results are only the first step on Wdowczyk’s long road to coming clean, despite seeing out larger part of his ban. Football environment will follow the story very closely but must be aware, not to end up as hypocrites, as Wdowczyk once did.