You couldn’t make it up.
After waiting for 19 years to get a club into the group stages of the UEFA Champions League, Polish fans thought the drought was surely coming to an end at last when Legia Warsaw annihilated Glasgow Celtic 6:1 on aggregate.
The legendary Scottish club who themselves won Europe’s premier trophy in 1967, the first Brtitish club to do so, are regular participants in these stages and never easy to beat. After the final whistle of the second leg in Edinburgh there was an air of confidence that nobody was going to stop the army club clearing the final hurdle, the play-off round, because they were literally on a roll.
Then came the unbelievable – Legia somehow managed to eliminate themselves. When coach Henning Berg sent Bartosz Bereszynski onto the pitch with just three minutes remaining and absolutely no danger whatsoever of Legia failing to qualify as Celtic would have had to score six goals in those remaining few minutes – the Norwegian was totally unaware that the substitute was still under suspension.
A simple clerical error had been made in Legia’s administration department where Bereszynski’s name had been omitted from the squad list sent to UEFA – for the previous matches against St Patrick’s Dublin. So even though the defender did not play in either match, it did not count against his three match suspension. Unknown to everyone at Legia, he only served the first suspension in the first Celtic match in Warsaw for which he was listed and in which of course he did not play. That return leg in Edinburgh was officially only his second suspended game where he should not even have been in the squad.
Morally there can be no doubt that Legia have been very harshly treated because anybody could see that this was a genuine mistake. But the question has to be asked why was this mistake made and how come clubs like Real Madrid or Bayern Munich don’t field suspended players?
The sad truth lies in one word – amateurism.
It is 25 years since Polish football was unshackled from the restraints of communism where officially all sportsmen and women were classed as amateurs. But even though at the time everyone in the world knew that the top footballers were paid wages for playing the game, the whole system from top to bottom was run like all aspects of communist life, badly. It was rife with corruption and incompetence and quite possibly the most damaging thing as far as success against the capitalist west was concerned, lack of real incentive. Footballers like all workers were employed by the state which meant that they weren’t required to produce results as there was no real competition like in a market economy, and so they lacked the motivation to succeed.
Football clubs were financially supported by the state and since that all ended in 1989, they have had to learn how to stand on their own feet. To do this they have to become fully professional, off the field of play as well as on it and the Legia fiasco shows that in the administration department that strain of communist era incompetence has not been completely eliminated. And this, at what must be regarded as Polish football’s richest and most efficient club, so how bad are things elsewhere?
You only have to look at what is regarded as Poland’s second biggest club Lech Poznan, to see how deep that amateur thinking is still there. It took two successive humiliations in the UEFA Europa League at the hands of part-time clubs before Lech Poznan’s owners realised that the coach Mariusz Rumak was just not up to the job. In fact he should never even been hired in the first place because the 35 year old had never coached at that level of football before.
The writing appeared up the wall a year ago when Kolejorz were dumped out of Europe by Zalgiris of Lithuania mainly because the inexperienced Rumak showed his total lack of confidence by going to Vilnius and playing for a draw. It failed as Lech lost 0:1 yet he unbelievably repeated the tactics in the home leg, playing with one solitary striker and by the time he sent on two more, it was too late.
There can be no doubt that the coach was to blame for that abysmal showing and he should have been shown the door immediately afterwards. But for reasons best known to themselves Lech Poznan’s owners decided to give him another chance, perhaps influenced by the fact that at least he wasn’t costing them much money – Rumak was one of the lowest paid coaches in the T-Mobile Ekstraklasa. As often is the case, an age-old saying fits the situation perfectly – you get what you pay for.
Hopefully Legia will in future make sure their administration department is run by fully efficient professionals while Lech Poznan will never employ an inexperienced coach simply to save money, again.
And hopefully another step towards a fully professional football industry will have been taken.
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