They simply couldn’t pick the better time for premiere of that commercial. The biggest (and one of the cheapest) grocery company in Poland decided to launch their campaign with a film in which Polish national team (whose they are sponsor of) coach, Franciszek Smuda, reads out loud names in alphabetical order at press conference and camera shows how old lady, a taxi-driver and a father sitting by the table hear that it’s all about them and cheer on, while the manager finishes saying ‘Everybody deserves a chance'.
Why the moment was perfect? It was half-time and Poland was already losing in friendly to Lithuania's second string 0-2 playing worst football for some time. The second half has not improvement at all, game was lost and fairly few laughed that maybe everybody deserves a chance – apart from those who played for Poland that night.
It’s not the first time Polish players have become victims of countless jokes about them when their results didn’t match fans expectations and people used national team sponsors as a way to take a revenge on those who failed. When Poland lost to Portugal 0-4 in the group stage of World Cup 2002 in Japan and South Korea, one of newspapers used players pictures on the wrapping of instant soups from food company’s campaign to suggest that they are ‘arse footballers’ (after some untranslatable game of words in Polish).
It’s not like those jokes about Polish national team, coach and his players aren’t justified, though, especially lately. The style in which they suffered defeat to Lithuania left only the biggest optimists in Poland in believe that there is a chance for this squad to compete as equals with the best countries during EURO 2012 - the others could only feel pain watching yet another clueless performance at both ends of those picked by Smuda.
In how big mess Polish national team is, showed just last Monday, when one of tabloids claimed that six players had an orgy with call-up girls in one of Poznan’s five-star hotel two days before Lithuania’s game. Whether this is true or fake story, it is left for fans judgment but the outrage could be heard from everywhere – not necessarily about footballers behavior but the organization and lack of discipline inside Polish squad. The most brave or those less patient called for Smuda head but instead got statement from players saying that the whole story is a lie and, while they won’t be talking to any media any time soon, they will try to show their commitment to fans in the nearest game.
The game against Greece played away (all of last five games of Polish national team took place abroad - not the best picture of a country that hosts major tournament in just fifteen months, right?) ended in goalless draw but there was a fact that overshadowed this boring game – Michał Żewłakow played his 102nd and last game for the national team. This moment should be sublime for all interested parties as the most capped player in Polish football history said his farewell but instead we have witnessed tasteless building up to the game, as Żewłakow said that felt unwelcomed on his last ever stay with the squad.
Smuda never forgave him showing up to the media wearing that famous ‘23’ Chicago Bulls shirt on airport after short tour in USA with Polish national team last summer. So he got sixty minutes in meaningless friendly, played in front small crowd with only thousand or two from Poland. Żewłakow should be happy though as many claimed that Smuda was thinking seriously about subbing him after ten minutes. Hardly deserved goodbye it could have been…
And there was drinking on the plane as well. Żewłakow and Artur Boruc famously and supposedly behaved loudly during their trip back which was the result of few bottles of wine drank on board. As Fiorentina’s goalkeeper is nowhere near finishing his international career Smuda never had to nor want to face with ‘The Crazy Pole’ as Boruc was once called by Scottish press. As the experienced duo was not forgiven, it seems that there might be an exception for Smuda’s strict rules and Sławomir Peszko from 1. FC Cologne is the prime example, just coming back to the squad after he was banned for drinking in the hotel while with national team.
Mess starts at the highest levels – just days ago Polish FA president, Grzegorz Lato failed to get into Executive Committee in UEFA through elections, only getting more votes than candidate from Malta – and there was just thirteen people lining up for seven places. Nobody believed when Mr. Lato said that he will ‘follow the path of Pope John Paul the Second’? With this being the main motto of his short campaign for the place in one of UEFA’s main bodies, he once again proved that diplomacy isn’t his and federations strongest point.
That all happens off the pitch as following scandals and politic games are played and preferred to focusing on football. Even the experts failed to count how many times Smuda changed his conception of national team since he took over the squad. There was a conception of playing like Spain and Barcelona, then he wanted his squad to perform like the Germans did last summer, just to change it all and try to implant the total football into footballers heads – much to the fans disbelief, everything failed or maybe even didn’t get enough time to work.
Smuda will disagree though. After drawing with Greece he said that if the game against Lithuania would be played on similar pitch to the one in Piraeus, his team would have won 5-0. How he could not have seen how Poles were outplayed, outclassed, outworked by ambitious back-up of Lithuania’s first squad? Clueless, disorganized, wrong all the time his team had a true nightmare there and even few missed sitters couldn’t be any excuse for the performance that led many to call for the head of Franciszek Smuda.
Maybe it’s his biggest strength that he still believes in this team, in those players? Behaving like a blind man, or worse, like a drunk, there seems to be no logic in his choices of personnel and tactics. He counts on Manuel Arboleda and Dominic Perquis to get Polish citizenship and fill huge holes at the heart of Polish defence but no one can promise him that the process will be finished anytime soon, while the ethics of the way he wants to strengthen his team leaves bad taste in fans mouth.
Fifteen months to the biggest and the most expected tournament and the question whether change of coach of Polish national team can improve anything is asked louder and louder. The arguments in hands of those who still believe that Smuda should be left in charge of the squad are melting away with every game. As is the faith that any possible Smuda's replacement can save Polish team from becoming the party poopers for forty millions of us who expect at least performing with proud.