Henry Wizgier

Poland’s ‘giants’ in dire straits

Poland’s ‘giants’ in dire straits

Poland’s most successful club this century Wisla Krakow who have won eight titles out of the last 15, are facing an uphill struggle to pay their players. It’s not a promising outlook for the new season where the minimum target has to be an improvement on what, by their high standards, was a very poor 2012-13 season in which they finished seventh.

The popular daily newspaper Gazeta Wyborcza has featured the club’s present plight in an article headed ‘Povery And Despair at Wisla’, in which veteran defender Arkadiusz Glowacki said he warned the club at the end of last season: “Without strengthening the squad we will be fighting to stay in the Ekstraklasa.” And that was before the 13 times champions decided to let several regular experienced players go without even replacing them. This has depleted the size of the squad down to a level that most big European clubs would find unthinkable, consisting of just fourteen outfield players and three goalkeepers. Compare that to teams from almost any other major European league where 20 is considered to be the absolute minimum. In fact this may shrink even further still because of problems with negotiating contracts involving at least three more players. Although there are plans to re-strengthen it, these are in numbers only because the club’s owners have decided that the only way to do that within their means is to invite players for trials.

Wisla’s only piece of extravagance this summer has been the hiring of former national team boss Franciszek Smuda who was in charge of the ‘Reprezentacja’ during Euro 2012. He himself has warned fans not to expect too much.

“We have to forget the past when Wisla were able to buy three of four very good players. This time we have to move forward very slowly taking small steps and patch up the holes where necessary, namely in attack and the left side of defence.”

It is easy for football fans in the prosperous western half of Europe to be unaware of just how bad the financial situation is with many of their poor eastern neighbours’ clubs. That is because the only news they seem to get from that half of Europe concerns rich Russian and Ukranian clubs who are bankrolled by mega-rich oligarchs.

The sort of oligarchs that many clubs from all over Europe dream of being owned by. The 2011-12 Polish champions Slask Wroclaw thought their dream had come true when the owner of one of Poland’s biggest TV channels, decided to take an active interest in the club’s fortunes. With a brand new stadium built to host Euro 2012 matches and hailing from one of Poland’s largest cities, they were being touted as the country’s answer to Shakhtar Donestk.

However five years on Slask Wroclaw’s fortunes can best be described as misfortunes because the dream owner has become a nightmare that hangs over the lower Silesian football club like a sword of Damacles. Zygmunt Solarz had one thing in common with Roman Abramovich when he jumped into football club ownership, he openly admitted to knowing very little about the game. But whereas the Chelsea owner expressed a passion for football, Solarz virtually admitted he had no interest in it whatsoever – it has even been said he dislikes football altogether. So why did this astute businessman whose acumen has made him a billionaire in euros not just zlotys, find himself financing something he has no time for?

The answer is that he was misled into believing that owning a top football club would be a nice little earner, a way of increasing his fortune. But as soon as Solarz discovered he’d made a mistake because the job of a football club owner is to pump money into his club, not make a profit on his investment, he immediately turned off the financial tap.

However it’s not that which is really taking the former champions to the brink of financial insolvency – but the fact that he won’t sell his 51% stake to someone who is prepared to step in and help out. That is, he won’t sell at a price which anyone is prepared to pay and so a stalemate situation continues in which for the second season running, Slask are preparing for a European campaign without knowing where the players wages are coming from.

If UEFA really are interested in creating a level playing field as they claim to be with the so-called Financial Fair Play initiative, perhaps they should be looking at ways of helping the less-endowed leagues of Europe?

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Henry Wizgier

Henry Wizgier, PSN Columnist, is a football writer and currently a semi-retired freelance jouralist. His pre-PSN resume includes writing about football for various British and Australian newspapers and magazines.

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