Tomorrow the Ekstraklasa arises from its deep winter sleep and stumbles into the spring round, ‘spring’ obviously being a misnomer in early February in Poland with its firmly minus temperatures, snow lying on the ground and smog polluting the country’s air. Still, there’s football to be played and here at Rightbankwarsaw we’d like to usher in the new round with an overview of some of the new arrivals which will hit your screens over the next four months or so. So fill your flasks with hot tea or something stronger and brace yourself to go out in the arctic tundra.
1. Semir Stilić (Wisła Kraków)
Yes he’s back. In the summer of 2015 the silky-skilled Stilić left Poland for Cyprus for another attempt to make it at a higher level – that being Apoel Nicosia the Cyprus title winners. Although he once more did not cut the mustard abroad, it’s difficult not to get excited about his return to Wisła Kraków. Sure he’s slow, sure he’s not very strong, but in a Polish league which permits attacking midfielders time and space, Stilić has the potential to be a superstar again. Wisła Kraków have been lacking a creative number 10 since Rafał Wolski was sold to Lechia Gdańsk in the summer of 2016 and Stilić should be able to do a fine job for them. Here’s hoping that Stilić is able to bring back his form of old. After all the Ekstraklasa could do with a few more deft touches and clever flicks.
2) Franciszek Smuda (Górnik Łęczna)
Photo: Czas Futbolu
The 68 year old ultra-experienced coach is back in Poland at relegation-haunted Górnik Łęczna for what will most probably be his last coaching job in Poland’s top flight. Smuda was the architect of one excellent Polish side Widzew Łódź in the mid-1990s and several other decent ones and was the Polish national team coach for their ill-fated Euro 2012 campaign. Blamed by many for the failure of Poland to make it out of the group stage, Smuda is however an old-school coach with character, charisma and rather charming ungrammatical Polish. Where other Polish coaches of his age have long since thrown in the towel, Smuda still has the energy to get Górnik out of trouble and will be a colourful addition to press conferences over the next couple of months.
3) Ziggy Gordon (Jagiellonia Białystok)
Photo: Przegląd sportowy
Table-toppers Jagiellonia Białystok have taken an interesting recruitment route over the winter break, with coach Michał Probierz searching the British Isles’ market for players to bolster his squad. Recently Jaga have been linked with Blackburn Rovers’ Anthony Stokes, infamous for attacking an Elvis impersonator, but someone who scored 58 goals in 107 starts for Celtic. They’ve also failed in their pursuit of Omonia Nicosia’s globe-trotting Irish striker Cilian Sheridan. The one player from the Isles they have got in is right-back Ziggy Gordon from Scottish Premiership club Partick Thistle. Ziggy, whose mother is Polish, is an athletic player who is also decent technically, someone who should fit in easily to the direct, ‘British’ style that Jaga employ. Hopefully we’ll see more players from the British Isles in Poland in years to come.
4) Gino Van Kessel (Lechia Gdańsk)
Photo: Przegląd Sportowy
Curaçao is a long, long way from Poland but the Ekstraklasa now has a fully-fledged international from the tiny Caribbean island administered by the Netherlands. Winger-cum forward Gino Van Kessel was actually born and raised in the Dutch city of Alkmaar but after Patrick Kluivert took over the Curaçao national team in 2015 Van Kessel was called up due to his mother who was born on the island. And he didn’t do at all badly, up to this point scoring 7 goals in his 10 international appearances. In terms of clubs Gino lit up the Slovak league with AS Trenčín, being the league’s top scorer in 2015-6 as the club won the league and domestic cup double. Van Kessel moved to Slavia Prague in the summer of 2016 for a large sum for the Czech league of €1.1 million. Despite disappointing for Slavia, Van Kessel comes with a good reputation, his main weapon being blistering pace. Should be exciting to watch in the Ekstraklasa.
5) Tomáš Necid (Legia Warsaw)
Photo: Przegląd Sportowy
It’s been a rather hectic winter for title favourites Legia Warsaw, mainly due to the loss of their two main strikers, Nemanja Nikolić and Aleksandr Prijović who have left for the MLS and Greece respectively. Legia have had to move quickly to replace Nikolić and Prijović who developed into a good pairing and were also important team players – especially Prijović. One of their new striking signings – Daniel Chima Chukwu – has been rather ineffective in Legia’s winter break friendlies – so it’s difficult to expect too much from him immediately. The other signing has far more pedigree, Legia will be Tomáš Necid’s 9th club and he’s still only 27 years old – but he’s gained an impressive 44 Czech caps, scoring a decent 12 goals and in the past has scored in the Champions League for the Russian behemoths CSKA Moscow. Necid is a beanpole striker who is good in the air and is a decent finisher. Legia will expect (and will need) him to hit the ground running.
Rightbankwarsaw contemplates taking a swig of whiskey and heading out to brave the freezing conditions, but decides a comfy sofa is the best idea for the moment. Enjoy the spring people!