Seeing him live for the first time in a Legia shirt, you felt from the very first moment that he is the real deal. It was a game in the Europa League that, over two games, became something of a legend for the club in recent years that were less prolific on the continental stage. He wasn’t playing perfect, but at 33 he stood out with his technique and ability to keep the ball and opponents’ attention, creating space for others.
In the second half of that game, he was played into the box by Radović, hold off one of his rivals, put the ball through the legs of the other and, while falling on his nose under pressure, backheeled the ball back to his teammate, who had open net and did not miss that occassion.
The next time he came to me – gracing the rather sandy pitch in Wroclaw in the game that supposed to mean who will walk to the title. Legia put the pressure on from the opening minutes and soon found themselves in one-man advance and with a two-nil lead. Next goals were coming, surely, but it was down to him to produce something special – free-kick from thirty five yards, upper corner of the goal found with a perfectly weighted and swinged strike. Legia was marching on, apparently that is what his celebration was supposed to say.
The last time was this year, only just few months ago. With Górnik still in play and title race open for at least four teams, Legia needed a win to prove their credidentials after an impressive winter transfer window. Saganowski opened the scoreline from close range, then it was his turn – he launched on to a long ball, had it under control, put his foot into it and sent it into far corner for a stunning finish.
These were not even his best goals or finest moments at Legia, nor the reason that he produced the goods every time I had the pleasure to watch him live makes his exit a bit more disappointing than it really should. Danijel Ljuboja have not played for Legia in the Polish Cup final on Wednesday, having reported a heartache in hours before the game. Then he failed to keep himself off the bar during and after the eventual win, as the celebrations for him and Miroslav Radović lasted until the early hours of Thursday in one of Warsaw’s more glamorous clubs.
His bad luck was that he meant club’s chairman in the very same club and in much better condition allowing him to remember the state of both players and how they asked him whether he wants a drink on them. Apparently he refused.
On Friday, Radović was fined and will look for his options after current season ends, but the decision to send Ljuboja to reserves for the rest of his deal means that he already played his last game for the Warsaw’s club. He either accepts the decision or walks out even sooner – the very first designated star of the Polish league.
He was expensive, controversial and problematic – Danijel Ljuboja brought not only his skills with him but full range of what people expected him to be after his less and more troublesome stories at previous clubs. The characteristic three white stripes on his head were ever present as he usually mesmerised the crowds with his backheels – his trademark and the way he assisted or scored in the league – only then to frustrate by waving his arms and shouting at teammates. This issue was even addressed by Jan Urban earlier this season, when the problems stopped for a while, until the moment Ljuboja was stopped by a routine police control and it turned out he drank too much to be able to drive.
Fines and recent problems should not, however, shape an opinion regarding his stay in Poland. After all, he has scored the second best number of goals in his career at Legia, being involved in almost quarter of goals this league season (combined with Radović’s record it’s 51%), as well as showing some pure class. At the end of his eventful stay in Warsaw, the question about the point of investment made in his contract and bonuses he earned is one of the most popular points of discussion.
It shouldn’t be like that. People tend to look at pure results and forget about football. Yes – Legia failed to clinch the title last year, when even Ljuboja himself was a shadow of the player he knows he is. Yes – two successive cup wins are nothing compared to rather frustrating recent results in Europe.
But Danijel Ljuboja should be judged on the base of his performances. At his worst he was that mannered, wasteful, arm-waving artist who with each misplaced pass moaned that his partners are nowhere near his level. He surely wasn’t and isn’t the player with which Legia would conquer the Europe again next season, as well as he proved not to be the pro quite a few liked to think he is. Simulating heart ache and then drinking yourself to the dance floor is hardly a reason to admire him, as were his behaviors reported by the press – when he claimed into Jan Urban’s face that even drunk, he is better than most of this Legia team.
He might have not been joking. Because when he actually tried – quite often to be fair – Danijel Ljuboja was indeed an artist in a league full of poor imitators, players with attitude problems both on and off the pitch. Despite the manner in which his exit is made, Legia should be quite proud of the fact he has been on their books for last two years. For all his backheels, free-kicks, dribblings, flicks, turns, one-twos and volleys, he was something worthwhile of the maximum fuss he caused. The project of bringing now-medicore, past-his-best, forgotten and ageing star to Poland paid off, if only with the lesson he gave to the kids from the academy in how to hold the ball up or move swiftly past his marker.
While it was expected that he may bring his demons with him, many have doubted he will bring so much class to the Polish game. And in the end, it is not the player that failed the hopes of fans, it was Danijel Ljuboja the human that simply should have known better.