Zbigniew Boniek playing for Juventus against Liverpool
In the last couple of weeks Polonia Warsaw’s Paweł Wszołek and Górnik Zabrze’s Łukasz Skorupski have been acquired by Serie A clubs. Wszołek (Sampdoria) and Skorupski (AS Roma) are part of a growing contingent of Polish players plying their trade in Italy’s premier club competition. Rafał Wolski is at Fiorentina, Piotr Zieliński and Wojciech Pawłowski are at Udinese, Kamil Glik is Torino’s Captain and Bartosz Salamon will play alongside Wszołek at Sampdoria. To help explain what is behind the phenomenon of ‘Polonia in Italia’ I talked to Italian football expert Bartosz Gazda.
Rightbankwarsaw (Herafter RBW): Can you say a little about the history of Polish players in Italy? Who’s been the most successful?
Bartosz Gazda (Hereafter BG): Well first of all I have to mention Zbigniew Boniek who played in Italy for six years with Juventus and AS Roma. In my opinion Boniek is still the face of Polish football outside of the country and at the same time our most successful player. He played alongside Platini, won the European Cup in 1985 and was known for his wonderful performances in evening matches, which earned him the nickname Bello di notte (beautiful by night). He is still warmly remembered by Juventus fans.
Perhaps less well known is Marek Koźmiński, a defender who played for Udinese, Brescia and Ancona between 1992 and 2002. His career was unfortunately slowed down by an injury in 1996. In 1992-3 another defender Piotr Czachowski also played for Udinese but he left after a season. The year after Dariusz Adamczuk played several games for the club from Udine.
There have been a number of more recent Polish attempts to conquer Italy. Goalkeeper Michal Miśkiewicz failed to break through at AC Milan, striker Radosław Matusiak had a hard time of it at Palermo, Kamil Kosowski didn’t set the world alight at Chievo and Błażej Augustyn played several games for Catania.
Radosław Matusiak in one of his rare appearances for Palermo
In terms of Polish players currently in Italy Kamil Glik is highly regarded at Torino and is loved by their fans. The latest player to come good is Piotr Zieliński at Udinese. Bartosz Salamon, Wojciech Pawłowski and Rafał Wolski are still waiting for their chance.
RBW: Lots of Polish players have been bought by Italian clubs recently. Why do you think Italian clubs are taking chances on them at the moment?
BG: It’s mainly a result of the financial crisis which has hit Italy, which means clubs can’t spend large amounts of money on players. Apart from Juventus who have their own stadium, other clubs have to rent from city councils which reduces their spending power. In addition Italian clubs are hit by high taxes which means they are less interested in expensive player purchases.
This all makes it very difficult for Italian clubs to attract world stars to the league and as a result they are being forced to focus on youth and often inexperienced players. In addition they are scouting regions which are somewhat on the periphery of the European football imagination in order to find gems. They know that acquiring a player from Poland is cheaper than buying a player from the youth academies of Dinamo Zagreb or Ajax Amsterdam. The success of Lewandowski, Błaszczykowski and Piszczek at Borussia Dortmund shows that there are Poles who can play at the highest level. Piotr Zieliński is proving that at Udinese.
The obligatory Lewandowski picture
RBW: What is the biggest difference between the Polish and the Italian game? What thing will Polish players find the most difficult to adapt to and why?
BG: In my opinion it’s tactics. Fiorentina manager Vincenzo Montella has said many times that Rafał Wolski is not playing because he is ‘way behind’ physically, but the real problem for Poles is getting used to and carrying out tactical demands given to them by Italian coaches. In Italy tactics are a vitally important part of the game, in contrast in Poland the most lauded aspect of a player is the effort he puts in on the pitch.
In Poland tactics are marginalised, something which can be seen clearly in Poland’s failures at Euro 2012 and the efforts of the current Polish national team coach Waldemar Fornalik. This was especially apparent during Poland’s recent 3-1 home defeat to Ukraine in a critical qualification match for Brazil 2014. In Italy it’s often those who understand tactics who play, even if they are not as talented footballers.
RBW: Of the current Polish players in Italy who has the best chance to succeed?
BG: At the moment Zieliński at Udinese. Zieliński had a great second half of the season, he got an assist in his debut which won him a place in the starting eleven in the next few matches. Zieliński is lucky as he’s part of a young, ambitious squad which is led by Francesco Guidolin, a coach who’s famous for his work with young players. All of this should allow Zieliński to prosper in Italy.
Both Wszołek and Salamon also have a great chance at Sampdoria. Both players have joined a young team which will give them a chance to show what they can do. Salamon was sitting on the bench at AC Milan in the second half of last season but he’s still highly regarded in Italy. Wszołek should be able to take advantage of the space freed up at Sampdoria after the transfer of the talented Mauro Icardi to Inter Milan.
Wolski might have more problems than the others, especially as Fiorentina have recently acquired several experienced players – Mario Gomes and ex-Malaga winger Joaquin. Finally Skorupski was bought by AS Roma with an eye for the future.