The only good bit of news to emerge from Poland’s disastrous World Cup qualifying campaign is that coach Waldemar Fornalik will definitely be replaced.
Yet he should never have been appointed in the first place, simply because he had no international and very little club experience. On top of that he lacked what virtually every top-level football coaching appointment requires on his CV, and that is winning something. Forty nine-year old Fornalik’s greatest ‘success’ as a coach – if it can be called that – was to guide Ruch Chorzow to finish as runners-up in the Ekstraklasa season of 2011-12. It was on the strength of this that PZPN boss Grzegorz Lato proudly announced him as the successor to Franciszek Smuda.
But the real reason for this strange choice, when there were so many alternative successful coaches both Polish and foreign, was hidden in the announcement that Fornalik would get paid half of what Smuda earned. And it was also pointed out that Smuda had been paid a lot less than his predecessor Leo Beenhakker, who it must be remembered took the Reprezentacja to its first ever Euro Championships in Austria and Switzerland. So, in a nutshell it became clear that economics and saving a few zlotys was the most important factor in who led the Polish national team.
In the present climate of football where evidence that highly qualified and therefore highly paid coaches are what get results, not semi-successful cut-price trainers, PZPN behaved like a bunch of amateurs who believe that football is all about ‘fighting-spirit’. It appears that according to them it didn’t matter who coached the team, all he needs to do is pick 11 players at random and gee them up before a game. Patriotism is more important than skill.
Among the many criticisms levelled at Fornalik is that he was too susceptible and too quick to please the media which resulted in some pretty strange selections. For instance in what was already obvious as the key game in this campaign at home to Ukraine and a virtual must-win situation, Fornalik decided to do some experimenting. He brought in Radoslaw Majewski after an absence of three years, because the ex midfielder had recently scored a hat-trick in the second-tier of English football, The Championship. To make way for the Nottingham Forest midfielder he dropped Ludovic Obraniak who until then had featured regularly in the starting line-ups. The result of this was a catastrophic defeat, followed by an announcement that Obraniak had decided he didn’t want to play any more under Fornalik. The Bordeux midfielder has never been adequately replaced.
It was once again against the Ukranians in a match that was a last-ditch throw of the dice, that Fornalik decided to bring back a player from out of the blue after an absence of four years, by what to most rational thinkers must appear to be a half-baked logic. In this case it was 34-year-old Mariusz Lewandowski whose best years were well behind him and who was playing out his career with lowly Ukranian strugglers Sevastopol. But Fornalik argued that Mariusz Lewandowski was playing in Ukraine and therefore possessed an amazing insight into Ukranian football, which was more important than his fading skill and pace.
The Sevastopol midfielder had a poor game, was partly-to blame for Ukraine’s winning goal, and was replaced. Yet as if to stick two fingers up at his critics, Fornalik played him again against England where he enjoyed another poor performance, earning the lowest rating 1.5 in ‘Pilka Nozna’ magazine.
It is therefore quite ironic that a man who was chosen by what appears to be no more than an impulse, namely his semi-success with Ruch, likewise destroyed his team’s chances by continuous selections made on impulse which had a disruptive effect on team morale.
It is becoming apparent that Polish football is being left behind, at both club as well as international level, by amateur and outdated thinking. And the reason for that is quite obviously money, or lack of it to be precise, as well as a misunderstanding of how it should work. Put this to Polish football followers and many will immediately argue that mediocrity should not be rewarded.
Precisely – but skill and proven results should, and that must be the criterion for selecting the next Selekcjoner, at whatever cost.
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