It’s tough being at the bottom of the league, and when in a relegation battle, it is important to have faith. Even at bottom side GKS Bełchatów, nine points from safety at the time of writing, there is plenty of that to go around. Editor Ryan Hubbard caught up with their Venezuelan defender Raul González Guzman ahead of Sunday’s clash with Górnik Zabrze to discuss the relegation battle, life in Poland, and most importantly, his nickname…
So then, “El Pollo” (Spanish for “The Chicken”). Where exactly does that nickname come from?!
It’s a very funny story. When I was young, for one costume party my mother made me a big chicken costume. This photo is at the entrance of my home in Venezuela, and after the party everybody start calling me that.
And it has stuck with you until now? Haha. So it has nothing to do with your footballing skills?!
*Laughs* Yes, I was around five years old when this happened, and from that moment on I’m known as “El Pollo”.
Lets move quite a long way forward to the present. How are you enjoying life in Poland?
Life in Poland is very nice, I believe it is a very good place for the family and to raise the children. Here you can find the stability that is missing these days in many places around the globe. At first it was a little difficult because of the weather, but with time we are getting used to it.
I imagine that having played in your home country of Venezuela and then Cyprus, the Polish winter must have been very strange?
Yes, it was the total opposite than what I have faced before, but as a professional football player I think that we must have the mind and the strength to adapt ourselves to any kind of situation.
So how exactly did the move to Poland happen?
Everything started when I was in Cyprus, and I was playing together with Kamil Kosowski (now at Wisła Kraków) at Apollon Limassol. There we built a nice friendship, and after that we kept in touch for a long time. One year later I had just finished my contract with Carabobo FC in Venezuela. I received his phone call telling me that the team was needed of a right back, so I came here to show myself in a different market.
And what are your thoughts of the Polish Ekstraklasa?
I think it is a very competitive championship with a lot of quality and prospects. It is also a good place to move on towards the best football in Europe. It seems that there a lot of people with the intention to make the league grow, and make it better and better for the future. For me this is a positive – Poland have to build a league that after some years can compete at the highest level.
Speaking of “the highest level”, you have made one appearance for the Venezuelan National team. Is that the greatest achievement of your career so far?
I think that for a footballer, to represent his country is the most important thing and the target you work for, so yes. It is a dream come true to have represented my country, even more so now that I think we have a very big chance to qualify for the 2014 World Cup.
Now let us turn to GKS Bełchatów. Obviously you are bottom of the table at the moment, but the Spring round has been fairly good. What is the atmosphere like inside the club?
I think apart from our position in the table, we have all been very serious and we have compromised with the team, and most importantly with the people we share the pitch with every day. This shows that we are good team-mates, and this is what is keeping us with the faith that things will go better. If not now, surely for the future of GKS.
Kamil Kiereś was the manager who brought you to the club. After the numerous changes, were you surprised to see him return in winter?
I think that we all were surprised with all the changes that the team experienced in such a short period of time, and sadly this affected a lot of the group and our performances. But after everything that happened, we were without a coach in December. We all knew that Kamil was a good option because of all the experience he has inside the club, and as a coach.
Now you have played against most of the clubs in the league, who have been the most difficult players you have played against?
I believe that (ex-Wisła Krakow midfielder) Maor Melikson was one of the most difficult players to mark. Also Ljuboja and Dvalishvili from Legia are very uncomfortable players to control inside the field, with a lot of quality and experience. Players who can change a game in seconds.
And the best you have played with?
Kamil Kosowski is one of them. With all of the experience he has, he shows that with simple actions you can change a game completely. Also I believe that Maciej Wilusz is one of the best defenders in Poland.
Does GKS have what it takes to stay in the Ekstraklasa this season?
There’s no doubt that we have what it takes, and we are a very competitive team – even to be higher in the table. I think we have shown our quality in many games until now. It’s a super difficult task to complete, but we have been working hard, and with a lot of faith that we can change all of this.
And either way, will you still hope to be playing in Poland next season?
For the moment yes. It’s a good place to live and to grow as a player – and this is important. Also, I hope that with a lot of hard work, to bring the attention of the biggest teams in the Ekstraklasa, and show this way that GKS don’t deserve to be in the lowest places in the table.
A massive thank you to Raul for taking the time out of his schedule to speak to EKSTRAKLASAreview. You can follow him on Twitter (@RaulPollo7).