There is no doubt about it – a quiet revolution is taking place in Polish football. Very soon now fans will be waking up to find themselves in the real football world and not outsiders looking in. The Ekstraklasa will soon begin to resemble a normal European league and it’s all down to the stadium rebuilding programme that is taking place all over the country. Although hosting the UEFA EURO 2012 required the building or re-building of only four stadiums, other clubs have taken advantage of the opportunities that presented themselves
If Lech Poznań and Śląsk Wrocław or Lechia Gdańsk manage to join Wisła Kraków and Legia Warsaw in Europe next season, Poland will be represented for the first time by a full complement of clubs none of whom will be embarrassed to receive the most glamorous of rivals from western Europe. Real Madrid, Barcelona FC and Manchester United may play out of bigger stadiums, but not better.
And it won’t just be the appearance aspect of these arenas but atmosphere as well. Polish football crowds are among the most passionate and noisiest anywhere in the world – as Manchester City found out to their cost when they came to the Bulgarska last November. From next season foreign teams will be subjected to similar treatment at the Lazienki and Reymonta and possibly Wroclaw Stadium or the Baltic Arena as well.
And judging by past results in Europe, Legia, Wisła, Slask and Lechia will need all that support if they are to make any real progress. But noisy fans can only provide a limited amount of assistance, the players on the pitch have to do the business and to do that, they have to be good enough. The best Polish footballers Robert Lewandowski, Jakub Blaszczykowski, Ludovic Obraniak and Wojciech Szczesny all play abroad because the money is better. To make up the shortfall Polish clubs import the best foreign players that they can afford and so far only one club Lech Poznan has been able to get value for money out of them – although mainly in their European campaign. Players like the Colombian Manuel Arboleda, Latvian Artjoms Rudnevs and the Serb Semir Štilić have made an invaluable contribution to Poznań’s fairly successful and equally importantly, lucrative European campaign.
Ekstraklasa champions Wisła Kraków, who like Lech are coached by a foreigner Dutchman Robert Maaskant, also have a side full of foreign players and Maciej Żurawski said recently that it’s getting rarer to hear Polish spoken in the Wisła dressing room. This is nothing new, the top western European clubs from Italy to England have gained most of their recent successes thanks to sides filled with foreign players. Last season’s European Champions Inter Milan had not one Italian in their starting line-up for the UEFA Champions League Final against Bayern Munich. Chelsea FC and Arsenal FC have also been famous for fielding sides made up entirely of foreign-born players and it hasn’t done them any harm.
Polish football’s biggest problem however is financial, but this is another area where the new stadiums will help. The TV companies like Canal + have stated that they will favour showing matches played in the best venues, which will attract more sponsors and more money. Hopefully, this will attract more good players, both foreign as well as Polish.
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