29 lis 2010

The League of Contrast

The gap between Polish Ekstraklasa and 1st League (which is second division) is growing. While gates in the first one are getting higher rapidly and we are only few matchdays from breaking the record of 100,000 fans in one weekend on stadiums, there can be still games in the second like Dolcan Ząbki with Górnik Polkowice – watched by 170 people. Money are more than tight, referees are poorer than You might think, while the worst is the broadcaster of the league – Polish public television. While couple of years ago we could argue that 1st League is even more of a contest (and more interesting) than Ekstraklasa, there is no such argue now. But let that not distract You from the point that after first round of the season in 1st League, there are some very fascinating stories to tell.

They were supposed to be the new force in Polish football. Rising from their knees, achieving Polish Cup final last season and having spent money on players decent enough to get them promoted this year to Ekstraklasa. Nothing like that happened as Pogoń Szczecin is closer to being relegated. Third manager already in charge this season and some disgusting (for the fans) results as losing at home to small town LKS Nieciecza 1-3 or failing to get even a point when they were 3-1 up against GKS Katowice in 85th minute… The crowds were getting smaller (first home game – 5,000, last one – 700), the city of Szczecin decided to stop investing money in the team and stadium (which is now a ruin) and future suddenly doesn’t look any good for everyone involved in Pogoń’s rise. Artur Płatek, new manager, has really tough job to do there, starting with raising the teams’ morale and then making them play much better than they did in last seventeen games. Surely, they have potential to be the force Polish football needs.

When there is a fall, there is a rise as well. Or even two, for that matter. Both teams are leading in the table right now and football presented by them is really good. Łódzki Klub Sportowy (later known as ŁKS) and Podbeskidzie Bielsko-Biała, are the heroes of the moment. Both had horrible last season. ŁKS was relegated from Ekstraklasa because of failing to get license, while Podbeskidzie had very average season despite voices about possible promotion. But city got involved in ŁKS, new investors came to the club and finally some normality is there – no problems with crowds, players aren’t involved in different affairs and most importantly, the squad is really good. Starting with young Jakub Kosecki (only on loan from Legia), Artur Gieraga looks solid at the back, while some experience coming from Marcin Mięciel, Piotr Klepczarek and Bogusław Wyparło definitely helps manager, Andrzej Pyrdoł in putting decent squad every week. Podbeskidzie is not far off them in football terms, with high scoring duo of Robert Dejman and Adam Ciesliński, secured by decent Michał Osiński as their most solid player in defence. Prospects of ŁKS and Podbeskidzie are really good as new stadiums will be build in two years time, while money are safe with the only concerns being players on short-term contracts (ŁKS) and relatively old (experienced?) squad (Podbeskidzie).

Third team after first round in Polish 1st League is Piast Gliwice, also relegated last season. They are really solid team with players that stayed there after failing to ensure place in Ekstraklasa. Budget is high, mainly thanks to transfers of Kamil Glik to Palermo, but also city got involved (once again!) and did not stop investing in new stadium that is already under construction. With new home and really promising squad (Jakub Biskup, Bartosz Iwan and Jakub Szmatuła deserve a mention) they are my tip to getting promoted this year.  ŁKS, Podbeskidzie and Piast are three teams that will most definitely look for promotion and someone will be disappointed after second round of football in 1st League.

Who looks solid in the middle of the table? Flota Świnoujscie under Czech’s management of Petr Nemec looks very decent, getting interesting results and thanks to Charles Nwagou, young Nigerian striker, they are one of the highest scoring teams in the league. What will happen though when this striking force will go to one of the Ekstraklasa clubs he is linked with? I’m sure Nemec will figure it out – he is really wise man. Also Sandecja Nowy Sącz is the team that got me surprised a bit but after seeing one or two of their games I’m pretty sure that next season they will be strong contender for promotion. They need to find decent striker but are solid team sticking to the tactic of ambitious Dariusz Wójtowicz.

But there is also the other end that after all deserves a mention. Warta Poznań, KSZO Ostrowiec and Dolcan Ząbki are the weakest teams and I don’t really think they can improve their squads that much to be on safe place when this season ends. Warta has financial problems and surely their bigger neighbor, Lech Poznań will look at the possibility of making them something like feeder club or reserves in third division. KSZO on the other hand had decent squad last season and still has nice stadium and training base but some people are not able to run the club as it should be done – that’s why they are so low. And Dolcan Ząbki? With average crowds of 478 people they are surely not the side that can stay that high in the league ranks for that long. They had a manager (Marcin Sasal – now Korona Kielce) that saved them two years ago and build squad good enough to avoid relegation last season but the fairytale must end at some point. I believe that it will happen this season.

This is the league of contrast. We have top three teams that are solid, have financial background, future to look forward to and players that can make the dream (promotion) happen. But only few places behind Piast, ŁKS and Podbeskidzie we have clubs that are struggling to attract sponsors, crowds, not to mention making a plan for the youth development, building solid training base and finding solution to the problem of hiring dozens of travelers that we have in Polish football. But all of them have one thing in common – they are not getting any help from  Polish FA, league doesn’t attract sponsors and the way public TV is broadcasting games (forcing silly game dates like Friday midday!) is simply pathetic. We are in serious danger of having really entertaining (You won’t catch me on telling ‘good in football’) Ekstraklasa with sixteen teams having really great stadiums and solid background but then nothing else to offer to them when two clubs will get relegated. Shiny new stadiums in 1st League, attracting crowds of no more than 5,000 (almost the biggest average now)? This serious problem must be taken care of but as far as I know Polish Football Association, they are happy enough that 1st League is up and running – no matter how.

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