When you watch Bartosz Kapustka play, it becomes very easy to forget just how young he is. He has a calmness and composure on the ball which some, much more experienced players lack, while his confidence in his ability are also extremely deceptive.
“Bartek has no nervous system; he doesn’t know what the word ‘stress’ means” current Cracovia coach Jacek Zieliński told FourFourTwo.com during the teenager’s major tournament debut at Euro 2016. “He approaches every game in the same way, no matter if it’s against Legia Warsaw, a smaller Polish team or Northern Ireland at the Euros”. If any player on the pitch in Nice was going to fit the ethos demanded by Leicester City coach Claudio Ranieri, Kapustka is that man.
It has been a remarkably swift rise from the Tarnowiak teenager, who only make his professional debut as a half-time substitute against relegation-bound Widzew Łódź in 2014. Two years later and he has scored on his international debut, represented his country in a major competition, and is now on the verge of becoming the most expensive player ever to be transferred from the Polish Ekstraklasa – and to the Champions of England, no less.
“Of all the offers, Leicester was the one most suited to me” Kapustka told Telewizja Polska when pressed about his future; “I’m not going there because of the name of the club, or because they won the English championship. I’m optimistic, and think I have a real chance of playing.”
But of course, the biggest question will be where Kapi fits into a team which won one of the world’s toughest leagues at a canter.
Original reports claimed that Kapustka’s impending arrival was a sign that Riyad Mahrez – linked with a move to Arsenal at the time – would be on his way out of the club. However the fact that the two players have generally performed on opposite sides of the pitch suggest that those reports were largely nonsense. He would far more likely be seen as an alternative option to Marc Albrighton – a left-sided player, who likes to operate further forward up the pitch, yet is still comfortable with tracking back when required.
At Cracovia, Kapustka has tended to play a slightly differing role to what will be expected at the King Power Stadium. The Pasy tend to operate a 4-2-3-1 formation, with Kapi on the left of the ‘3’. However his role for the national team during Euro 2016 is much closer – on the left of a 4-man midfield, with two defensively-minded central midfielders alongside him.
Kapustka tends to favour his right-foot (although still talented with his left), and therefore plays as more of an inverted winger – similarly to Mahrez on the opposite flank. He feels comfortable cutting inside, and when he does, he has an extremely dangerous shot in his armoury. Technically gifted and tactically aware, Kapi also has a good amount of pace; serving him well in counter-attacking situations, of which The Foxes benefited from immensely during their Premier League-winning campaign.
However, arguably his biggest strength is his stamina – “he never stops running over the ninety minutes” Zieliński told TransWorld Sport. Kapi managed 33 league appearances during the 2015-16 season, with 29 of them starts; already fitting in with the fitness levels demanded by Ranieri.
The ‘Cabbage Boy’ (‘Kapustka’ being translated directly into English as ‘little cabbage’) is able to take guidance from some of the world’s best – notably, Bayern Munich frontman Robert Lewandowski. Since being called into the national team, Kapi has been taken under Lewandowski’s wing, with the former Lech and Dortmund star offering advice and support to the youngster. Before deciding on his future, it’s also understood that Kapi sought the advice of national team coach Adam Nawałka.
There have been questions over whether the East Midlands will be the right destination for Kapustka; but with the club taking part in more competitions, and therefore with more games to play, Leicester will afford him chances to play. Right-winger Demarai Gray was also in a similar situation when he signed from Birmingham City, and has been given a number of chances in the first team. Purchased at twice the amount, if Kapustka can show the same determination as he has so far in his career, he too will become an important player within the club. It is even possible to argue that he could be an upgrade on Albrighton.
After impressing the onlooking Ranieri against Northern Ireland, Kapustka garnered the praise of his international captain Lewandowski, who told Polish paper Super Express that “we know what he’s capable of; but now the whole world knows who Kapustka is, so it will be more difficult for him from now on”. However the Tarnowiak has already proven that he thrives under pressure, and in Leicester he’ll be looking forward to proving it on the biggest stage yet.