Reform shows sins of Polish football


It is worth to note at the very beginning, that the talk regarding changes in the Ekstraklasa is nothing new. At the end of the autumn round the reform hit the headlines in the country, with clear intent coming from the league board of extending the season to 37 games. The issue was discussed in the #Ekstraklasa Magazine (Issue 2), where the past problems with similar innovations was outlined. 

Clubs made their opinion heard, with most of them opposed to introducing two groups of eight (top and bottom) after the proper season, with additional seven games introduced to fight with the old and damning problem of short period of football in Poland. The summer break was supposed to be shortened even further, with Ekstraklasa resting only during the heavy winters of the central Europe, despite increased number of new and comfortable ground in top tier.

The reform was, however, thought as dead for the near future, while further discussions were supposed to be held among all members of the league. But two weeks ago, when the news broke out again regarding next season and definite changes – the same as planned in December 2012 – were supposed to see the new era of Ekstraklasa football. If the project would turn out as a success, of course.

The opposition grew in force and only today “Przegląd Sportowy” has revealed  that ten clubs are either against the reform or unhappy of the way the project was prepared, discussed and then introduced by the league board. Votes have been counted and the general meeting will be held over the next few weeks to end the hassle and play… the normal way.

Legia Warsaw, Lech Poznan, Śląsk Wroclaw, Widzew Łódź, Pogon Szczecin and Piast Gliwice are all for the changes, even if that doesn’t make sense for some of them. Śląsk and Lech are struggling to attract crowds that would fill even half of their new stadiums, while Pogoń and Widzew were to and still are waiting for new grounds, fed only by promises of local authorities. Piast, on the other hand, is only beginning their story at smart  new stadium, learning how to cope with this situation. To be honest, Legia is the only one that makes sense and can fully identify themselves with new system, having not only own team that attracts people but also great ground and atmosphere.

But what about the rest? Why they are disagreeing on the project that was supposed to make the whole league more competitive, up the level of football and give them more money – at least from the TV deal after Poland’s two biggest satellite platforms have connected?

The answer can be only one – the sin of omission. For past five months, when there was the time for discussions, questions and answers, those clubs did nothing to prepare themselves for what supposed to be their future as well. Nothing was done to prevent the reform from happening, criticism apparently ended with the moment clubs won their battle in December, while the eventuality of the return of the reform was disregarded. Now they are surprised that the decision was made again, having failed to take advantage of the time given to them… by the clubs themselves!

Their luck, however, rests on the effect of togetherness of their protest. While most of the clubs are living in the chaos of short-term thinking, planning and decision-making, struggling with the world of business and budget-creating, they have the simplest explanation of all – they lacked the time.

Somehow, they managed to draw the supporters of the reform to their level of discussion. Roman Kosecki, who was Zbigniew Boniek’s opponent in last year’s PZPN elections and now supposed to be the head of Coaching Department,at federation, said that extending the league to 18 teams should be discussed.

With PZPN, even under Boniek, struggling to cope with mismanaged clubs of owners without money or idea how to run their businesses, it is the easiest decision that would further ruin the level of competitiveness. Not only the country has not enough players on the right level to make it at Ekstraklasa level nowadays, they want to hand out the wild card to two 1. Liga teams in order to satisfy the needs of both parties – clearly forgetting about the huge difference of level in both, sport and organizational, senses, even if the Ekstraklasa itself is struggling with both.

Of course, the reform itself is not perfect – far, far from it to be perfectly honest, as group or play-off system (whichever we will call it) supposedly being only transition from 30-round, short season to something more… demanding from players and clubs. The aim is to bring the level up, make it easier for teams to compete successfully in Europe, and attract people to stadiums week in, week out. But Ekstraklasa – as a board and company – struggles to recognize what should follow the system that should be introduced from the 2013-2014 season.

Question remains on most issues but the way the case was and still is handled shows that in simple professional terms, none of the parties involved is prepared for the step forward. Concerns regarding level of the Ekstraklasa are valid and even the all-star team of Legia is far from guaranteeing its fans the Champions League glory. For what is worth, they are much more of a Europa League group stage future surprises than a club that would make it something more significant than simple chairmen discussions between Mr Leśnodorski (Legia) and Sandro Rosell (Barcelona) that should be held sometime in the future.

Put it this way – there is more chance of this reform coming through successfully than of Legia making it to the Champions League group stages.

Indeed, the reform itself was supposed to be the well-timed test for Polish clubs in how they cope with capitalization of the world of football. Yes, some of them still have to cope with ruined stadiums but money and revenues should be growing, not nosediving. It’s the lack of competence that made Ekstraklasa what it is now and the thin layer of professionalism will not fool the world of football – after all, the pitch will tell the truth. Śląsk Wrocław was hammered in the Champions League qualifications by Swedish side, Ruch Chorzow was embarrassed by rivals from the other side of Poland’s southern border.

Sixteen clubs, PZPN and the Ekstraklasa are fooling themselves that they are coping with business that means something more not only in Poland but in Europe as well. Meanwhile, they are forgetting of their own reality, not coping well enough with demands of financial realities, players’ wages, stadiums’ costs and TV deals. Once again, they omit the reality in which they exist – surely, there is no point in reforming something that lives in the matrix of own making.

As sad as it sounds, the very first step should be to accept the position we are currently in – it may be harsh, cruel and painful but internal fights will not help at all in making the next step from Euro 2012. After all, the next step is the sin of laziness and satisfaction.


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