The Ekstraklasa is finally over after 11 months and 37 rounds of matches. Lech Poznań finished as worthy winners in the end, with Legia Warsaw, Jagiellonia Białystok and Śląsk Wrocław qualifying for Europe and Zawisza Bydgoszcz and GKS Bełchatów dropping to the I liga. It’s been an enjoyable club season on the whole and it’s time to look back at the highlights (including European games). Here’s my top five:
1) Legia Warsaw’s performances vs Celtic in the Champions League qualifiers in August
Michał Żyro and Michał Kucharczyk playing for Legia in Scotland
It all seems such a long time ago now but Legia’s performances in the two legs against Celtic in August were quite simply superb. The way Legia dismantled a side with far greater European pedigree, shocked many and seemingly announced the arrival of a European class Polish side. Although Celtic were far from their best, Legia played with swagger, pace and intelligence to defeat the Scottish Champions 6-1 on aggregate. Legia’s attacking duo of Miroslav Radović and Ondrej Duda, along with Michał Kucharczyk and Michał Żyro quite simply bamboozled Celtic’s defence with intelligent interplay. Although Legia went out in the end due to an administrative error (bringing on the suspended Bartosz Bereszyński), the two performances against Celtic will long be remembered.
2) Ruch Chorzów almost qualifying for the Europa League
Ruch’s Grzegorz Kuświk holds the ball up in Kyiv’s Olympic Stadium against Metalist Kharkiv
Ruch Chorzów came within 15 minutes of defying all the odds and qualifying for the Europa League group stages in August – something which would have shocked even the most optimistic of their fans. Ruch had a tiny budget and a small squad but were still able to make it past Lichtenstein’s FC Vaduz and Denmark’s Esbjerg FB. In the final qualifying round the Upper Silesian club came up against Ukraine’s Metalist Kharkiv, a club with a far larger budget and were only eventually defeated by a penalty in the 105th minute of extra-time. Jan Kocian, the manager that was the architect of this brave run, was rewarded for his success by undeservedly getting the sack just five weeks later.
3) Jagiellonia Białystok
Jagiellonia Białystok’s open-top bus-ride to celebrate finishing third
The team of the season has to be Jagiellonia Białystok. Jaga have quite simply had an excellent 11 months. Not much was expected of them at the start of the season but they have consistently over-achieved – finishing in third place and defeating both Lech Poznań and Legia Warsaw (the only sides finishing higher than them) away from home. The side from Białystok do not know when to give up, a great example of this was on the final Ekstraklasa game of the season at home to Lechia Gdańsk. Losing 2-0 with twelve minutes to go, Jaga rallied to eventually come out on top 4-2. Jaga’s manager Michał Probierz has to be praised for guiding the club to their highest ever league position, and for taking advantage of Jaga’s flourishing youth academy – the most exciting prospect of which, goalkeeper Bartłomiej Drągowski, will surely move on to a large Western European club in the near future.
4) Maciej Skorża’s successful return
Maciej Skorża left Polish club football under a cloud three years ago after the Legia side he managed failed to secure a title after being in a great position with a couple of games to go. Skorża then spent a season in Saudi Arabia with Ettifaq FC, and another season out of work, waiting for the right job to come along. He finally returned to club management in September 2014 after the sacking of Lech Poznań manager Mariusz Rumak. Skorża’s failure at Legia has weighed heavily on him, but he has gone about his business at Lech without fuss, building a side which plays with flair and which is gradually gaining in confidence. When Legia started to stutter in the spring round of matches, Skorża’s measured and intelligent management was able to guide Lech to their first title in five seasons. With this success Skorża has finally forced those who doubted him to eat their words.
5) Olivier Kapo
Perhaps a surprising choice to some but the presence of veteran ex-Juventus striker Olivier Kapo at Korona Kielce has been an overwhelmingly positive one. Kapo has had a long and relatively illustrious career, along with Juventus he has played for Auxerre, Monaco, Birmingham City and the French national side. It was then quite a surprise when he signed for Korona last August. How would someone like Kapo react to the Polish Ekstraklasa which lacks in big-name internationally renowned players? Would he float around with his head in the air, would he sulk in the corner cursing the fate that led him to play in Poland? Happily, and indeed rather refreshingly, this has not been the case. He has played 27 games this season, scoring seven goals but most importantly he has had lots of positive things to say about Poland, he always has a smile on his face and he seems to enjoy playing in the Ekstraklasa. When compared to the fuss that some foreign players cause when playing in Poland, Kapo has been a breath of fresh air.
I hope you have enjoyed Rightbankwarsaw’s posts this season. Next season will no doubt be just as interesting!