If it wasn’t for the European club competitions Polish football fans would probably be flocking in their tens of thousands regularly to their brand new stadiums. The reason why the Champions League and Europa League have a detrimental effect on Polish football is that they highlight the weakness of the Ekstraklasa.
But that weakness is made up for by entertainment, making it one of Europe’s more exciting leagues to watch, and as far as competitiveness is concerned, none are more wide open. At the halfway stage only eight points separate the fourth and twelfth teams, which means that 12 out of the 16 are still in with a good chance of qualifying for Europe next season. Also, the new format introduced this season of continuing the league programme after all teams have played each other, by splitting them into two further leagues, should keep the flame burning throughout the second part of the season. At this stage only the top three teams Legia, Górnik and Wisła can feel pretty confident that they won’t end up having to play-off in the relegation eight. Which means that going into the second half of the season any two of 13 teams could well find themselves dropping down to League 1 the second tier, next season.
After starting the season with a bang where they scored 12 goals in their first three games, reigning champions Legia Warszawa suddenly and inexplicably came unstuck losing two matches in a row, against moderate opposition. They picked up again and despite hanging onto top spot, don’t look like a confident bet to retain the title. With only one fit experienced striker Vladimir Dvalishvili available, coach Jan Urban could well be looking to bring in reinforcements up front in January.
Despite his failure to win a game and take the Reprezentacja out of the group stage in Euro 2012, Franciszek Smuda has shown that he can still do the business at club level. His return to Wisła Kraków has also resulted in a swift return to the top by Poland’s most successful club this century. Following the upheavals after the Robert Maaskant era during which Biała Gwiazda went through three trainers and failed to qualify for Europe two seasons running finishing in mid-table, it’s back to business as usual at ulica Reymonta. It’s not only Smuda who has made a dramatic return but wandering striker Paweł Brożek as well, after his unsuccessful spells with Trabzonspor, Celtic, and Huelva in Spain. The 30 year old’s seven goals have put him back in the familiar position of being Wisła’s top striker.
It will be interesting to see what long-term effect losing coach Adam Nawałka to the national team will have on Górnik Zabrze. Their first game without him in charge resulted in a dramatic collapse when it seemed as though they’d forgotten him already. When Prejuce Nakoulma gave Górnik an early 11th minute lead at Lech Poznań it looked like the 14 times champions were on their way to re-joining leaders Legia at the top of the Ekstraklasa. But then came that total disintegration in the last half-hour as Kolejorz banged in three to grab all the points. Interim coach and Nawałka’s assistant Bogdan Zajać will be feeling the pressure already and it might be sooner rather than later that he will be relieved; the favourite to take over at ulica Roosevelta is Rzsyard Wieczorek, after former international and current Raków Częstochowa boss Jerzy Brzęczek turned down the job.
While those sides already mentioned have been hogging the attention, perhaps the most entertaining team so far this half season have been Lechia Gdańsk. Their neat-passing and fast flowing football is a pleasure to watch and against Sląsk Wrocław their opening goal, a wonderful volley by Piotr Grzelczak would have graced any stadium in Europe, being reminiscent of Zidane’s famous strike in the 2002 Champions League final for Real Madrid. And this was no fluke because Grzelczak scored a similar beauty just four days before at Korona Kielce, and if Adam Nawałka watching from the stands in Gdańsk was aware of that one, the 25 year old Lechia striker could well find himself in the national squad for the forthcoming friendlies against Slovakia and Ireland.