Lech Poznań’s ground. Photo wiki commons. Author: Carte.
It’s that time again! The Ekstraklasa’s return is only a few day’s off. To mark this occasion Maciej Słomiński joins us to give his preview of the sparkling new season that approaches in his own inimitable style.
The 2018 World Cup in Russia was bitterly disappointing for the White & Red Eagles but I bet Polish club sides wish they were in the national team’s position – meaning qualifying for major club tournaments on regular basis. Actually Polish domestic clubs’ European qualifying campaigns started before the World Cup had even finished, showing how lowly ranked we are on the continental scene.
Legia Warszawa after winning 5 titles during the 6 last seasons (their most successful period in history) will be hoping to reach the group stage of the Europa League at least which they failed to do last season – a year after being the first Polish side in two decades to reach the promised land of the Champions League.
Domestically Legia will be clear favorites to win the league again, and thus claim their 14th title and equal the number of championships Silesian club sides have won – i.e. Górnik Zabrze and Ruch Chorzów. If they do it they will go past Wisła Kraków who have 13 – of which 7 were won this century. Legia and Wisła used to be rivals but now the latter has to admit they are a selling club – last season’s best scorer with 24 goals, Spanish forward Carlitos Lopez has just moved from Kraków to Warsaw. Not for much as the transfer fee was reported to be around €500,000 (2 million PLN). Why so little? If transfermarkt site is to be believed, he was worth around 6 times that? The reason’s quite obvious – Wisła have been in financial dire straits for years – they were not paying their stadium rent and were in debt in amount of 5 million PLN towards the City of Kraków who own the ground.
There was a danger of Wisła either needed to find a replacement ground two weeks before the league starts (Chorzów, Tychy and Nieciecza were mentioned) or being relegated from the league due to not having a place to host matches. Last season’s newcomers to the Ekstraklasa Sandecja Nowy Sącz had to play all their home games in Nieciecza and the head of the PZPN, Zbigniew Boniek warned other clubs it’s the last time ever that it was possible. All very wacky world of Polish football (#wwopf.)
Legia beat off competition from Lech Poznań to sign Carlitos and are doing what Bayern are doing in Bundesliga, signing other sides’ best players – Carlitos’ striking partner will be his compatriot and Wisła Płock best scorer last term Jose Kanté (of Guinean descent and not related to the shyest World Cup winner ever, N’golo). All fine when it comes to 28-year old foreign strikers, less luck with 23-old year wing-back Arkadiusz Reca. Płock laughed off Legia approach of €1 million (4 million PLN) and duly sold Reca to Atalanta Bergamo for four times the price. Wisła, who were a surprise package last season, almost making it to Europe, apart from Reca and Kanté also lost their manager Jerzy Brzęczek when the national team came knocking. This means a huge task awaits Łukasz Masłowski their Director of Football – his clever transfer dealings earned him the nickname „Polish Monchi” (after the Spaniard who won 11 trophies at Sevilla and holding the same position there). He’s already partly done his homework signing Brazilian winger Ricardinho, this could prove a hit.
Last season ended in disappointment in Poznań and was accompanied by a huge riot during the last game of the campaign at home to Legia – it earned Lech the penalty of playing 5 league games behind closed doors. Cue a change of regime – Croat Nenad Bjelica was replaced by a Serb who was previously coaching reserve team and an ex-Lech player – Ivan Đurđević. A mostly unchanged squad will still be one of Legia’s main threats – Lech’s midfield was strengthened by two central midfielders – Portugal’s Pedro Tiba who arrived for €1 million (4 million PLN which is a lot for Lech’s board whose unwillingness to spend is legendary even by Wielkopolska standards – there is a joke the Poznań folk are Scotsman who were exiled from the homeland for being too stingy) while Tomasz Cywka (ex-Wisła Kraków and Wigan Athletic and Reading) arrived for a free.
Jagiellonia Białystok finished second two times in a row which is well above their weight as their revenue places them clearly in the second half of the table. I’ll be checking their form on Friday evening when they start their season at home to my team Lechia Gdańsk. There might be some tasty duels on the wing as Przemysław Frankowski (Jaga player but born in Gdańsk) will be trying to prove he should have gone to the World Cup instead of Lechia’s Sławomir Peszko who went to Russia solely because he’s Robert Lewandowski’s mate. Apparently. Another Jaga player, Lithuanian Arvydas Novikovas had even a fight on Instagram (or wherever footballers use these days) with Peszko about it. I’m looking forward to the continuation of that discussion on the pitch. Peszko is the oldest player in Lechia’s squad after Milos Krasić, Sebastian Mila, Jakub Wawrzyniak, Grzegorz Kuświk, Marco Paixão all left (Marco’s twin Flavio remained on the Baltic coast). The Gdańsk side changed their policy of buying 10 players every transfer window mainly because the league imposed financial constraints after deducting points from Lechia for 3 seasons in a row. There are still some payments arrears and the fans have turned against the board. This transition season could get ugly.
There is a much better mood up north in Gdynia, where Arka have just won the Supercup (Charity Shield-esque season opener) for the second year running. Their transfer moves look worryingly decent, they signed Aleksandar Kolev from relegated Sandecja Nowy Sącz and two good players from Korona Kielce in Nabil Aankour and Goran Cvijanović. For now it looks like they’ll stop being the Polish Wimbledon, not that they’ve changed their colors from blue and yellow, but they’ll try to pass the ball a bit, but when the derby day comes in October…okay I will stop here.
Although he’s nicknamed the Polish Guardiola, Michał Probierz is more like José Mourinho – either you love him or hate him. I fall into the second category and absolutely love the guy and his press conferences when he always says something interesting. Cracovia’s owner (the sometimes mad) Professor Janusz Filipiak showed patience with Probierz, stuck with him last season when the times were tough and now will most likely reap what he sow. They are much better run and will most likely finish above their city rivals Wisła this season for only the third time this century. Their only problem could be replacing their main striker Krzysztof Piątek, who left for Italian side Genoa after scoring 21 goals last term.
Of those teams who could challenge for Europe – there’s a genuinely feel good vibe around Śląsk Wrocław and Pogoń Szczecin – both teams were formerly playing in the relegation group but saved themselves from the drop quite comfortably. Both teams come from Poland’s recovered territories gained after World War Two (Polish: Ziemie Odzyskane) and have just celebrated their 70th birthdays so maybe that’s where the good mood comes from. Both clubs have chosen different ways to success – Śląsk are municipally owned (although the city council have been trying to sell for years now), their manager is arguably their best player in history and ex-head of Academy – Tadeusz Pawłowski. In Pogoń’s case the city is helping to build a new stadium as the club are the last side in Ekstraklasa (apart from the newly promoted teams) who play at an old school ground.
For years coal was called “black gold” and Silesia was Poland’s richest region. That’s why it was once the power house of polish football, having at one point as many as six clubs inthe top flight. Now it’s down to two.
The first Piast Gliwice made a last minute escape last season, beating Nieciecza on the last day of the season thus relegating the village team, making everyone happy (including the owner of this blog).
The other Górnik Zabrze reached Europe last season after a 24 year break. Górnik managed to hold on to most of their key players, (apart from Rafał Kurzawa – who took part in the World Cup and Damian Kądzior), which means Spanish striker Angulo and midfielder Szymon Żurkowski but most importantly manager Marcin Brosz is still there. A coach in in the mould of Adam Nawałka, who pays a huge amount of attention to details. One day he will be the national team manager. Put your money on it.
Speaking of money: coal companies are on the retreat while those extracting copper are on the up. KGHM, a state company are doing business with countries as far away as Chile. Football wise they own Zagłębie Lubin who after years of spending public money without much thought were relegated in 2014 which turned out well as they put their faith in youth coaches from Holland. Now their Academy is said to be best in the country – quite a feat for town of just 60,000 people.
There will a copper derby in the Ekstraklasa this season for the first time ever as Miedź (which literally means copper) Legnica came up. Legnica’s claim to fame is due to the Red Army being stationed there until the end of communism. Miedź’s Finnish playmaker Petteri Forsell will finally be making his Ekstraklasa debut after being released by Cracovia before the start of last season by Michał Probierz for being…too fat.
Lubin will not be the only side called Zagłębie this season. Zagłębie Sosnowiec came back up after ten years in wilderness. They were a constant fixture in the top flight under communism, winning the cup four times. Edward Gierek the Polish Communist Party’s 1st secretary in the 1970s was a fan, that’s why they were often making last minute escapes to beat the drop from the league.
A little tip – when after a wild night out in Silesia (most probably with passionate Silesia lover and fighter Ed Gibbons, friend of the stars, holder of original views and #wwopf loyal supporter) you wake up in Sosnowiec – whatever you do don’t say anything about Silesia while you are there. Zagłębie is across the river and despite being mining country is historically much different to Śląsk which was described for In Your Pocket by yours truly here.
You have to take my league predictions with a pinch of salt as last year I predicted Korona Kielce (who were bought by a German consortium shortly before) to be rock bottom and they reached the top 8 without much fuss. Maybe this forecast will work with delay? I’d tip them to finish bottom so they probably won’t.
1. Legia Warszawa
2. Jagiellonia Białystok
3. Lech Poznań
5. Wisła Płock
6. Śląsk Wrocław
7. Pogoń Szczecin
8. Zagłębie Lubin
9. Lechia Gdańsk
10. Arka Gdynia
11. Górnik Zabrze
12. Wisła Kraków
13. Piast Gliwice
14. Miedź Legnica
15. Zagłębie Sosnowiec
16. Korona Kielce