Just over a year before EURO 2012 starts in Poland and Ukraine but it all still seems a bit unimaginable for fans of Franciszek Smuda’s team as it is genuinely impossible for a team that sits on seventieth place in FIFA ranks to match all those expectations. Just when Smuda was appointed as new Polish national team manager, there were voices of praise that reached new heights, convinced that it wouldn’t be a tournament where Poland were regarded as the one of worst hosts in European Championship history.
New heights, eh? Not so much as the Polish team still has its weaknesses and as every other game shows, there is more work needed to be done than time left until EURO 2012 starts. Smuda promised a team that will attack rather than defend, passes the ball rather just move off it but all those words are gone, and now he is desperately looking for a style and playing test-games that certainly don’t help his team. A team that is young and ambitious, but limited.
It all starts in the league, doesn’t it? Well, the Polish Ekstraklasa (top division) is not much better than the national team, while clubs failures on European stage are getting even more epic with every passing season. Michel Platini wanted to make it easier with new qualifications system, but the Polish wait to see champions in the Champions League is stretched now to fifteen years and it’s painful to watch teams like BATE Borysow, MSK Żilina from smaller countries that make it through the golden gates and not Legia Warszawa, Wisla Krakow or Lech Poznan.
There were times when reaching the dream was so close but it seems just unreachable for Polish clubs to play against Chelsea, Barcelona, Real Madrid and Inter Milan. There is something left though, small, little Europa League where at least part of the money the giants get is available and where Wisla, Lech and Legia are doing better. Still, surviving the group stage and being still in the competition after the winter was the biggest achievement for over two last decades.
But if there are no new heights to reach on the pitch, at least things are going better off the pitch. Clubs finally are moving out of old, ruined stadiums to new. Some of them build for EURO 2012 (Wroclaw, Gdansk and Poznan), others just to match the level set by the aforementioned. We may soon have greater crowds and fantastic atmospheres outside but that will remain to be besides the point, if it is simply lacking any quality inside.
But at least greater crowds will attract sponsors and budgets will grow – finally clubs are not investing everything into first squads but are looking to develop the background, build youth teams, training base, scouting web. It’s generally going into right directions as Polish clubs try to chase European standards in every matter, following years of disappointment, and corruption affairs. Polish football is steadily coming out of its dark ages, darkened by hooliganism, racism and anti-Semitism, and with EURO 2012 just one of the steps, agreed – one of most important ones, but not the end of the world, even if it ends in disaster for the Polish national team.
Remembering that it is just a chance, a stepping stone, next move is half of the success but there is still a lot of people in the game that are responsible for its fall in last two decades. New names are connected to corruption scandal, coaches that are generally speaking crap somehow still are appointed and, most worryingly, talents are wasted. Poland is doing better and better though, and if that impatience will not slow us down, soon we may be a force like a forty-million strong country in central Europe should be.
By Michał Zachodny
Michal is the fantastic brain behind Poland’s proudest Twitter personality. You can follow him on his blog, Polish Football Scout or alternatively, on his Twitter feed @polishscout for quite literally, everything to do with the sport in Poland.