In the first guest post for a while on RightbankWarsaw, Mário Silva explains why Legia’s demotion to the Europa League due to the Celtic fiasco will benefit them and most importantly the game in Poland.
The title may seem rather odd given the anxiety of Polish football fans to have a team in the Champions League after nearly two decades but after things calm down I’d argue it’s actually one of the best things that could had happened to Legia and to Polish football in general.
It sounds tempting to have the huge clubs and amazing players of the Champions League playing at your stadium but that’s a short-term perspective which has caused clubs problems in the past. Legia if they had reached the group stage of the competition (which to be honest was totally within their reach) would have been put into pot number 4 alongside other low ranking teams which would have meant tough challenges ahead.
I don’t want to be in any way pessimistic given the effort and the dreams of many Polish fans but this would have meant an enormous leap for Legia to compete at this level. Remember we are talking about a team (with pretty much the same players) that in 2013-4 finished last in a Europa League group containing Lazio, Trabzonspor and Apollon Limassol; so if you ask me if they were ready for the step-up to the Champions League my answer would have to be no.
Financial arguments can be used and rightly so given the money that currently circulates around the Champions League but I doubt whether these arguments are valid for Legia. Their current financial position is solid and profitable (going on the last Deloitte report) and with a budget of around 23 million euros – almost double the budget of their main internal rival Lech Poznań – they shouldn’t have any problem dominating domestically for years to come. So money is indeed good and it opens a lot of doors and can buy top players but Legia doesn’t really need it right now and in fact this shouldn’t be their top priority.
Legia are the key to developing and returning Polish football to a decent European standard. It seems that they’re the only club able to compete abroad (Lech’s disaster against Icelandic part-timers Stjanan proves this and despite the good work done by Ruch Chorzów I believe Metalist Kharkiv will be too strong for them).
This is the last season where the UEFA coefficient from the 10/11 season counts. Back then Lech reached the round of 32, gaining important points for Poland in the process. If no Polish side achieves something in Europe this season, the Polish coefficient will drop to levels just above Azerbaijan – something that would be a disaster for a country of almost 40 million people.
It is with these ranking points that Legia can and must play a part – in the process being the key to the future development of Polish football. Their presence in the Champions League would have earned several ranking points for them and for the country, however in the Europa League their opportunities for gaining points are much higher. The level is far more appropriate for them and as the saying goes you can’t start building the house from the roof. A much more clever approach is a step by step consolidated project at club level that will provide a so-called ‘spill-over’ effect from which Polish clubs will greatly benefit.
The earning of ranking points in the Europa League this year will provide Legia with the opportunity of being seeded next or in later seasons from where they can take advantage by playing low ranking teams. Something that will in turn provide points for both club and country. These points are key for Polish football and hopefully will lead the country back to a more acceptable position in the European football hierarchy. If you think I’m wrong a little comparison will explain more.
The Polish case resembles a lot the case of my own country (Portugal) at the end of the 1990s when for example Sporting Lisbon lost against Viking Stavanger and Benfica failed even to qualify for Europe. At this time it was Porto who had a stable structure surrounding the club much like today’s Legia. Porto were able to breakthrough in Europe grabbing crucial points for them and their country by reaching the final of the 02/03 UEFA Cup and the year after’s Champions League. This provided a massive boost to Portugal’s ranking allowing other clubs to benefit (expanding Portugal’s Champions League contingent to 3 clubs and 6 in Europe overall).
Much like Porto back then, Legia seem to be the best fit to lead Polish football into a new era. With Poland being the rising star of Europe’s economy I wouldn’t be surprised to see Polish clubs eventually at the top or close to the same level as those of the continent’s top leagues. However this is a project that takes time and without patience nothing unfortunately will be achieved.