Back to to the top half in our Season Reviews, where Maciej Słomiński looks toward Lechia Gdańsk’s future.
Besides the trophy winners Legia Warszawa and Zawisza Bydgoszcz, Lechia Gdańsk are undoubtedly the biggest winners of the 2013/14 Ekstraklasa season – and certainly the team who used the league’s split after 30 games to the most effect. Only just squeezing into the top eight, they made huge progress in the final round, finishing fourth – their second best ever league finish, only topped by a bronze medal in 1956. Funnily enough, it was Lechia who were one of the most vocal opponents of the new system before the season.
But now that feels like decades ago. Lechia before the season and Lechia now are two different clubs. The old Lechia began the season on a high, riding a spectacular wave stirred by their 2-2 friendly draw with Barcelona in Gdańsk. The players’ self-belief hit sky limits and they remained unbeaten in their first eight league games, beating Legia away and spending time as joint-leaders.
But those in the know said it wouldn’t last. And it didn’t. Autumn was bad and the Gdańsk side returned to their natural surroundings of the lower-mid-table, even if they managed to beat Legia again – this time in arctic conditions after two penalties by Japanese midfielder Daisuke Matsui, who left for his homeland mid-season.
But more important things were happening off the pitch. The owner Andrzej Kuchar, who didn’t get on well with the fans, finally sold his shares to a mysterious German-Portuguese-Swiss-Spanish consortium. New players began to arrive, and for good money. 18-year old Paweł Stolarski’s arrival was symbolic. Some said a new force was born – the talented right back came from Wisła Kraków, and Lechia pipped Legia for the player’s signature – possibly for the first time in club’s history.
Manager Michał Probierz felt undermined by the new situation, and after a quarter final cup defeat finally received the axe. Dutchman Ricardo Moniz was named as his replacement and the so called “new broom effect” paid dividends. The team played good football and crept into the championship group – something which most agree would have been impossible with Probierz in charge.
Despite their highest league finish for 58 years there are still questions about the future; especially since manager Ricardo Moniz’s unexpected departure to 1860 München. It was no secret that Moniz didn’t get on well with Director Andrzej Juskowiak. Things were far from rosy between them from day one, and showed no signs of getting better when players that Moniz wanted to stay left the club. As a reason, Moniz cited the infamous situation in Zabrze where he grappled with security; but the real factor was surely, as Tupac used to say, “money rules the world”. The reality is that even a Polish side with European ambitions pays much less than a second division German outfit.
Another big question is: will goalkeeper Mateusz Bąk remain in Gdańsk? He was apparently offered a one-year contract with only a slight pay rise, while newcomer Dariusz Trela from Piast Gliwice signed a three-year deal that will get him around 30 thousand złoty super month. Obviously Trela is younger and has a much-higher sell on potential, but Bąk is no cucumber too. According to Przegląd Sportowy’s ranking the club captain was named as the league’s best keeper; a genuinely nice guy and club legend, who was in goal when the White-and-Greens started from scratch in 2001 after a series of mergers.
The famous 1980’s clash with Juventus is still so legendary in Gdańsk that a book has been written about it, but to quote a classic “31 years of hurt” is bit too much. With the most possible respect to the Polish Cup winners from 1983, a new history has to be written. Gdańsk is a European city, and so needs European football.
But to paraphrase another classic: “you will win nothing with mercenaries”. With Deleu and Moniz gone, at least Bąk has to stay. Though the new owners will want their money back, Lechia has always been something more than just what happens on the pitch. Even if they find themselves fighting for the Polish championship next season, with no players which local fans can relate to, Lechia will struggle to fill half of their 44-thousand PGE Arena.