It all started so well. First it was the famous 2-all draw in a previously-postponed friendly game against Barcelona. It might have been a friendly, but much more famous Norwegian side Valerenga were thumped 7-0 just days before that; and there were Messi and Neymar on the PGE Arena pitch. After, the Lechia players – who had struggled in pre-season friendlies – played like never before. The Biało-Zieloni recorded their best ever start in the top flight and were joint leaders after a 1-0 win in Warsaw against Legia. Michał Probierz patiently smiled, in the corner while often being compared to Pep Guardiola thanks to his baldness.
While he won’t ever admit it, he was surprised himself how good the start was. After all he saw those players in training, and in private talks he said they shouldn’t even be playing top flight football. But many of them were having the time of their lives – Piotr Grzelczak ridiculed for his lack of touch before, and sent away on loan to Polonia Warszawa the previous season, was scoring from impossible angles. Paweł Buzała, who was likened to a headless chicken, was also scoring for fun. The squad he had were not great players, but apparently Probierz put a large emphasis on stamina. And it was winning him games.
It couldn’t last forever though. In mid-September Lechia were leading in Szczecin and had won a penalty. Piotr Wiśniewski’s shot was saved by the keeper and Pogoń equalized in the last minute. That’s when the wheels started to fall off. Instead of scoring goals for fun, Lechia had begun conceding goals from nowhere.
While at Wisła he was rumored to go to his bosses and complain about players – not the best move for dressing room atmosphere. However at Lechia he did something else. He sent some of the players to the second team for their “lack of commitment”, and then brought some of them back in the first team and straight into starting line-up. When one of the players got injured he said he’d be treated by the second team doctor. And so on.
2013 ended in good fashion, with a 2-0 win at home to leaders Legia and a valuable point in Zabrze. But then their homesick star player Daisuke Matsui left and returned to his native Japan.
Off the pitch there was bigger news on the agenda, as Lechia changed hands. New owners bought the club, but only some of them were only introduced to the public. Now the club are run by a German-Swiss-Portuguese-Spanish consortium, or private equity instituton if you like? Modern football… Don’t you just love it!!!
Mariusz Piekarski, a well-known agent and wheeler dealer, had close links with new owners and some of his players were signed – mostly on loan though and late-January, two weeks before the league started. Allegedly Piekarski didn’t rate Probierz much, and talked with Pogoń manager Dariusz Wdowczyk about replacing him. Whether that was on behalf of the new owners, or of his own accord, no-one knows; but it is of no wonder that the recently departed Probierz didn’t feel much support from the board.
After last nights’ exit from the Polish Cup his fate was signed, sealed and delivered. The Cup seemed like an easy way to get to Europe with all of the big guns such as Legia, Wisła and Lech having been eliminated earlier. But now Lechia will also struggle to finish the regular season in the top 8 of the Ekstraklasa, despite this being the aim of the new owners.
Probierz had ate and slept football, often spending whole days in the club. It I’d impossible to say he wasn’t committed to his job. However in reality the squad lacked quality and no manager could change that in the long-term – Although Jan Kocián of Ruch Chorzów would beg to differ.
So “do widzenia” Michał, it was in fun the beginning. But even the players say they feel like the team belongs in mid-table; and between 7th to 10th place in a weak Polish league won’t fill the 44,000 capacity stadium like the new owners wish.
Maciej is a freelance writer, having contributed to the likes of When Saturday Comes and the Guardian. You can follow Maciej on Twitter here.