Whilst faux-speculation surrounded the appointment of the new national team coach, most of it was aimless pointing around and pulling names our of thin air to try to find someone other than Górnik Zabrze boss Adam Nawałka who would qualified to take the reins of the Reprezentacja. The fact that all suggestions of other potential candidates – even with Zbigniew Boniek’s claim that he had three men in mind – were quickly dismissed, is a testament to how far ahead of the pack Nawałka actually was.
The decision of who would step into the role will not have been an easy one for Boniek to make, but in Nawałka he has chosen someone he knows very well. During the late 1970s, when a young Zibi was just beginning to establish himself in the Poland setup, Nawałka was an almost-permanent fixture in the middle of the park – the pair even played together during the Kadra’s unsuccessful attempt to better their 1974 bronze medal in Argentina 1978.
Now that the recently-turned 56 year-old has been confirmed as the man who will attempt to lead the Białe-Orły to France 2016, Poland can look ahead towards the qualifying draw knowing that in him they have a well-organised coach with great man-management skills, yet who can also show discipline towards his players when needs be.
But although the new Selekcjoner has history with the president, he has shown over the last four years that his appointment is purely down to his growing reputation as the best coach in Poland rather than any long-term friendships.
Whilst it wasn’t known at the time, a tumultuous period for Górnik Zabrze took a turn half-way through the 2009/10 season when coach Ryszard Komornicki was dismissed. Komornicki had been brought to the Ernesta Pohla during the summer following Henryk Kasperczak’s bleak period in charge which resulted in the club’s relegation – only the second in Górnik’s history. But despite picking up thirty points from his opening fourteen games of the season, four successive defeats and a home draw with Wisła Płock saw the former midfielder – who won four league titles with Górnik in the eighties – out of work as winter hit.
To replace him, the Górnik board didn’t have to look too far – just a few miles away in fact. Over the other side of the Upper Silesian conurbation, Adam Nawałka had led his unfancied GKS Katowice side into the mid-season break just a single point behind the 14-time Polish champions. Whilst his first game in charge – co-incidentally against his former club – ended in a draw, Nawałka went on to power Górnik to a second place finish and promotion back to the Ekstraklasa at the first attempt.
Since making it back to the Ekstraklasa, Nawałka has guided Górnik to three successive top-half finishes despite having little-to-no money at his disposal. Year on year he has proved his worth, repeatedly rebuilding a morally and physically decimated team, taking them to the brink of European competition.
Man-management is clearly one of Nawałka’s traits which Boniek feels will suit the national team well. His ability to get the best out of players, and in some cases improve them further, is something which will be needed when he takes charge of Lewandowski, Błaszczykowski, et al. Since moving from Wisła Kraków in the summer, ageing midfielder Radosław Sobolewski has been given a new lease of life by Nawałka, whilst Bartosz Iwan, Seweryn Gancarczyk and Mariusz Przybylski have all made the progression from decent players to some of the most reliable in the league under the coach’s tutelage.
Nawałka is also not afraid to stamp his authority on the team – something which will be necessary in a Poland dressing room laced with big-named ‘egos’. Ask players such as Adam Stachowiak, Damian Gorawski or Paweł Strąk – all either frozen out or kicked out of his squads for various infractions, or Norbert Witkowski – dropped after making a high-profile error in September’s Wielkie Derby Śląska.
As well as his disciplinarian streak, Nawałka and his management team have also proven that they have the ability to work extremely well with youth – something which could be key for the future with Poland’s blooming Under 21 squad. Tomasz Hołota, Arkadiusz Milik, Łukasz Skorupski, Paweł Olkowski and Mateusz Zachara haw all been massively influenced by Nawałka’s tuition, and one-or-two could even find themselves with a shot at the senior squad in the future.
But whilst relative success in club management has propelled Nawałka into his new role, international football has caused more than a few managers to become unstuck. Both of his immediate predecessors, Waldemar Fornalik and Franciszek Smuda, were appointed on the strength of their domestic successes, but failed to meet the objectives set by the PZPN. Nawałka now has a trend to buck.
Smuda was the strict disciplinarian brought in the lead Poland into Euro 2012 following a dismal World Cup qualifying campaign – but without the media on his side, his dismissal was inevitable when results began to wane. In complete contrast, Fornalik was the media-friendly face, who had gained many plaudits during his time in Chorzów – but he found it difficult to motivate his better players, which ultimately cost Poland in their unsuccessful World Cup qualifying campaign.
On early glances the new coach is an ideal balance between the two. Like Fornalik he is an easily likeable coach, who shouldn’t struggle to get an already willing public on his side. He has the ability to strike up a good rapport with his players, and will quickly work out how to get the best out of them. But as well as being the good cop, he also knows there is a time to play the bad cop – a role that Smuda played too often, and Fornalik not enough. How he manages that with his key players will likely be the difference between qualification for France 2016 and being thrown on the managerial scrap heap.