The first time I heard about Piotr Grzelczak was in the middle of a cold Polish January. My Polish side Polonia Warsaw were in dire straits at the time with a host of players being forced to leave the club due to the empty pockets of former owner Ireneusz Król. That winter all the players that had performed so impressively in the autumn of 2012 fled as fast as they could. Polonia did their best to find stop-gaps at very short notice with coach Piotr Stokowiec recruiting some old friends and others on short-term loans. One of the players who arrived back then was Piotr Grzelczak.
Hearing about the player’s arrival I did a little research on the internet and found the usual Youtube goal collections – Grzelcak didn’t look half bad. However when I turned to social media my questions about him got a rather different response with most people smirking at the signing, ‘He’s terrible’ they said and I took them at their word. Grzelczak hardly shined for Polonia in the spring of 2013, scoring a grand total of one goal in his eleven appearances. He came across as a clumsy player, lacking in footballing intelligence and capable of missing chances which other players would have scored.
Fast-forward to summer 2013. Polonia Warsaw have gone bankrupt and Grzelczak finds himself back at his parent club Lechia Gdańsk. Fan expectations were not high for a player who had only scored once in 16 appearances for their first team. Grzelczak’s return however happily coincided with the organisation of a prestigious friendly with FC Barcelona in mid-July – with Lechia even getting special compensation to play the game on a weekend scheduled for league action. Barça are exceptionally well-supported in Poland, indeed they have far more fans than Lechia have. This meant a wave of media-hype surrounding the match, including excited radio phone-ins with Barça-obsessives and thousands of Polish fans planning on making the trip to the Baltic coast.
However the day before the game was to take place, disaster struck. Barca’s then manager Tito Vilanova announced he would be resigning from his duties due to essential cancer treatment. Barcelona then, to much Polish dismay, stated that they would have to call off the friendly as they were simply not in the right frame of mind to play. While many fans wailed over the lost złotys they’d spent on their tickets – the match was speedily rearranged for the end of July.
Grzelczak was in luck, Lechia’s manager at the time Michał Probierz decided to take a chance on him in the friendly, starting the forward on the left-side of midfield. Grzelczak wasn’t at all daunted by the occasion, indeed he was a man transformed. During the first half he showed a plethora of skills that few believed he possessed – with a mix of neat passes, flicks, feints, layoffs and nutmegs which would not have been out of place on the highest of stages. Grzelczak however will forever remember what happened in the 50th minute. A high ball over the top saw Grzelczak win a tussle with right-back Martin Montoya, he then proceeded to charge towards the area and, from an almost impossible angle, hammered the ball into the roof of the net. The goal was met with rapture by the crowd and Grzelczak was suddenly a feted player.
Social media didn’t quite know what had hit it. Barcelona fans the world over were asking questions about Grzelczak – ‘Who is this player?’ ‘Why isn’t he at a top club?’ Polish fans inevitably were quick to douse the flames of enthusiasm, with several gleefully exclaiming: ‘He’s one of the worst strikers in the Polish league.’ In the aftermath of the game Polish fans had a field day, creating a host of Grzelczak-related memes and content. One internet comment stated the following: ‘Today Grzelczak’s double was on the pitch. I hope the double stays and the original doesn’t return!’
Grzelczak won the Ballon d’or last year don’t you know?
In some respects the double has indeed stayed. Grzelczak has had a very good season at Lechia – the flicks, feints and nutmegs of the Barca game might not have been as frequent but he has a decent haul of seven league goals and the great majority of them have been crackers. Lechia fans opinions of him haven’t turned completely full circle but a formerly much-maligned striker has won respect from larger and larger parts of the Polish footballing public. However whatever Piotr Grzelczak does in the future, it will certainly be difficult to top that night in Gdańsk at the end of July.