Just two weeks into the new Ekstraklasa season and we already have our first managerial casualty of the season to dissect. After back-to-back losses against Piast Gliwice and Pogoń Szczecin, Czech boss Pavel Hapal’s 21-month reign at Zagłębie Lubin finally came to an end on Tuesday.
Despite being perennial slow starters – having had to wait until matchday 9 for their first win last season, and round 8 in 2011/12 – both the fans and the club board weren’t willing to hang around any longer this term. With club captain Adam Banaś acknowledging that the Miedziowe‘s start to the season has been disastrous, and the fans’ demands that the former Banik Ostrava and MSK Zilina boss hand in his resignation, the end was already nigh for Hapal.
Losing a number of big-name players during the summer transfer window, Zagłębie were always going to find it hard. With a number of players’ contracts expired, Szymon Pawłowski headed to Lech Poznań, Maciej Małkowski went to Górnik Zabrze, and the trio of Łukasz Hanzel, Csaba Horváth and Kamil Wilczek all found themselves reunited at Piast Gliwice. Aleksandr Tunchev and Costa Nhamoinesu also headed away from Poland, leaving Hapal’s squad looking bare.
However when able to strengthen themselves, Hapal did so fairly well – especially in midfield. Górnik’s star man Aleksander Kwiek joined his former team-mates Banaś and Robert Jeż in Lubin, whilst Miłosz Przybecki and Łukasz Piątek both joined from the decimated ruins of Polonia Warszawa just in time for the beginning of the season. The coach was also able to replace some of his other departures; central defender Ľubomir Guldan signing from Bulgarian champions Ludogorets Razgrad, and Piast full-back Paweł Oleksy switching Górnyśląsk for Dolnyśląsk. However in Małkowski and Pawłowski, Zagłębie lost two wingers, and of the three midfielders brought in, only Przybecki can generally operate out wide. This has led to Hapal trying to use Robert Jeż out wide – something which can be only described as “misguided” at best.
With the lack of threat from the flanks, Zagłębie have had limited success, something most noticeable in the performance of Czech striker Michal Papadopulos. Last term Papadopulos grabbed eleven goals for the Miedziowi, but although it is still early days, this season he hasn’t quite received the same service – failing to score on his two outings.
To be fair to Hapal, he maybe should have been allowed a little more time to allow his team to gel. That isn’t to say that his dismissal was the wrong decision – but maybe just at the wrong time. Zagłębie’s ninth placed finish (it would have been seventh had it not been for their three-point deduction) last season was just another one of mediocrity – something which is clearly unacceptable considering that they are one of the few Ekstraklasa sides with a decent amount of money to spend. But if the board were intent on letting him go through pre-season, and make transfers ahead of the new campaign, it seems silly to let him go after just two games.
On the flip-side, the Zagłębie board know that if they harbour hopes of reaching European competition, they simply cannot wait eight-or-nine games for their first victory – they need to hit form as early as possible. Over the last two years, Zagłębie’s form has drastically improved after the winter break, but with the Ekstraklasa’s change in format, that would be much too late this season. With over two-thirds of the regular season now in the Autumn round, the games come quick and fast, and a poor autumn round will almost guarantee a relegation battle rather than a European fight when the league is split and the points are halved.
One thing is for sure, the Zagłębie board have clear intent on what their aims for the season are – finishing below eighth position after the thirty-game threshold is not an option. The new man in charge, whether it is to be Maciej Skorża, Rafał Ulatowski, or anyone else, will need to quickly win over the dressing room seemingly lost by Hapal long ago. It takes time for a new manager to stamp his mark on a football club, and only then can a difference in the level of performance be expected. But unfortunately in Lubin, time isn’t a luxury that Hapal’s replacement will be allowed too much of.
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