This season of Ekstraklasa was not only about players. As always, we had many changes on managerial posts in almost every club and it got surreal in quite a few as well. You will find out in this piece how this season in Polish top flight looked from the bench. This time we go down from the very top.
So, we are starting with Robert Maaskant who took over at Wisła Krakow after three games and led the team to the championship. He came for the request of Stan Valckx who just days earlier was signed as Sports Director. He had a hard task straight away, as team was very criticized for failures in Europe (thanks to Henryk Kasperczak…) and after quite a revolution during summer transfer session. He did well, especially during winter time – got good players and fitted them in the squad what made the difference in the league, despite the crisis that Wisła had. They won the title comfortably and (few will argue) in style that brings back memories of the best Wisła side we saw in last decade. Will they achieve more in Europe than the team with Kosowski, Żurawski and others did?
Second place was for Śląsk Wrocław which is remarkable achievement for Orest Lenczyk who took over after seven games and found his team in relegation zone. Went on to fantastic run of sixteen games unbeaten, won four points against future champions and made this side the most scoring team in the Ekstraklasa. Quite an achievement for the team that is often described as the most defensive one as well, right? He took over because Ryszard Tarasiewicz, despite good transfers in the summer, failed to get his tactics right and went too attacking, something that quickly hit him back. Just four points in six games was enough for Śląsk board, even though they were coping with club’s legend and they went for Lenczyk – probably their best decision ever.
How on earth Maciej Skorża is still Legia’s manager? If I could get a quid for every rumour that came out this season and said that he is close to sacking I’d definitely be much richer person than I’m now. His side lost eleven games in the league but won Polish Cup. He failed to inject style and make good transfers but after all, they finished third. He was flirting with Lech Poznan when it turned out that Legia is negotiating with Vladimir Weiss but he will get his second chance at Legia after all. His job will be on the line from day one and he knows it. Time to prove the high reputation he has in Poland.
Hard to believe but Michał Probierz is Ekstraklasa’s longest serving manager – something that was about to end this season. He started very well, even when Jagiellonia made early exit from Europa League, many thought they did it with style. First round was tremendous as they finished first but two serious crisis after winter ended season for Jagiellonia at fourth spot, best in club’s history. He wanted to resign when his team lost to Polonia Warszawa few rounds before the end but club refused to sack him, saying it’s not a job done for him in Białystok. I strongly agree with them.
Lech Poznan is rightly recognized as the biggest disappointment of this Ekstraklasa season. Two men are responsible for this – Jacek Zieliński who made awful start to the league and left the team just over the drop zone, but also Jose Maria Bakero, the one who was sacked after six rounds at Polonia Warszawa. We will get back to it but for now, let’s say that he wasn’t brave enough when it came to the league in Poznań. He definitely had players to make better result but several decisions, like leaving Semir Stilić constantly on the bench, simply did not go his way. He was in similar position as Skorża at Legia but, even more surprisingly, he won’t be sacked in the summer.
Meanwhile in Zabrze, Adam Nawałka did very good job with Górnik – he maybe had problems with his team when they were on the road but at home they were one of strongest teams, also playing with great character and style – especially when Robert Jeż was signed in the winter. He revived career of Grzegorz Bonin, made them solid at the back at home and that was enough to finish sixth in their first season after promotion. Great achievement.
Polonia Warszawa… Where to start? Jose Maria Bakero started well, got ten points out of five games but was sacked and his fault was to… well, argue with owner, Józef Wojciechowski. This madman with no patience to managers at all, changed them four times this season! When Spaniard was sacked, his place took Paweł Janas who was prepared to this role from the summer but he did much worse than Bakero – no wonder that Wojciechowski decided to terminate his contract with club. He went the same way as Wisła and appointed manager from Holland, Theo Bos. He lasted just three games, won one point and got eliminated from Polish Cup. Piotr Stokowiec was temporary solution (even though his ambition was to become permanent manager) and Jacek Zieliński, after short break following his sacking from Lech, was back at Polonia where he already managed the team under Wojciechowski’s eyes. He did quite well but the damage was already done and seventh place is something they deserved.
Tomasz Kafarski was (and still is) regarded as ambitious and young manager from new wave and we will see in the next season whether he learned from mistakes made during this campaign. Lechia had really good first round, few thought that they may finish in top three, while aim was to finish sixth at worst. Does it mean that Kafarski will be sacked for this underachievement? Don’t think so – several results cost them place in European cups but he injected attacking style in his team that was praised by almost every manager in the league, many naming them the worst team to play against. If they will make their best players stay for next season, it will be better.
Andrzej Kretek get the chance at Widzew Łódź when Paweł Janas decided to go to Polonia Warszawa despite winning promotion with them but he was simply not good enough. Still, it is some kind of miracle that he stayed for thirteen games up to the moment when Czesław Michniewicz made his comeback to the league after long break. Once named ‘Polish Mourinho’ had good winter, few transfers that were made to the club helped him and he bravely decided to trust in young Nika Dżalamidze from Georgia. Decisions paid off and who knows where they would finish if Darvydas Sernas wasn’t blocked for so long – he found his scoring form only in last few games…
Tenth place is for GKS Bełchatów and that actually is the number for this club – they draw 10, won 10 and lost 10 under Maciej Bartoszek’s management. Young, 33-years old manager is very ambitious, like to talk a lot about himself, sometimes it gets to the point where he is irritating but his sacking after this season may mean that he is not ready yet for Ekstraklasa job – after all, he had players that were able to achieve much more this season…
Marek Bajor lasted seventeen games at Zagłębie Lubin and few will argue that he made enough to get himself kicked out of his job. It is worth noting that he started the season just after tragedy in his family and that was something what might caused few problems, in coping with pressure mainly. He has ambitious team but club was in conflict with fans and had several problems that influenced them but his decision were sometimes strange as well. Jan Urban who took over in early March showed that this team has strikers, something that Bajor moaned about all his tenure long. Urban did well but not finished high – he will have chance to make it up next season.
How is that manager of twelfth team in Ekstraklasa is regarded as one of the best in the country, especially that season ago he finished third? Waldemar Fornalik, very humble, intelligent man, knows a lot about his job but situation at Ruch Chorzów wasn’t easy at any time this season. Best players sold, financial problems, lack of signings and this may sound strange but his job should be still rated as well done. Ruch was hard to beat at home and Fornalik’s tactics weren’t bad at all during away games… But his team has limits, much more of them than last season. He should land better job very soon, if nothing changes in Chorzów.
Marcin Sasal was quite long (for Polish league) in Kielce and many thought that his job at Korona should be rated highly but this season he failed to settle his team, especially after great first round when it was decided that they are fighting for European Cups. But in the second round they were the worst team in Ekstraklasa and he simply had to go – Włodzimierz Gąsior took over but is only temporary solution. Korona needs to freshen up their squad, add some quality as they lacked it so many times in last six monts.
Cracovia just, just, JUST stayed in the league which is quite an achievement for Jurij Szatałow, man who took over after Rafał Ulatowski left the team with four points out of ten games. They had only eight points when winter came but did JUST enough to stay in the league – something that wouldn’t be possible if their rivals weren’t so bad. He made Cracovia attractive side but only at home – they were appalling away and there is a lot to change if they don’t want to repeat same dramas next year. And what happens with Ulatowski, once regarded as best manager in Poland, named by Beenhakker as the future of Polish football? He will comeback but someone needs to trust him and that will be the hardest part after such shambles with Cracovia.
Dariusz Pasieka was Arka’s manager for nineteen games and he job wasn’t in doubt after first round. He learned his team how to defend but looked like he had forgotten about attacking. And, as second round proved, his defensive tricks were down to the artificial pitch on which Arka Gdynia played for the first months of the season – when they moved to new stadium they were so bad the board decided to trust in anonymous Fratisek Straka, Czech manager that worked in Australia. He moaned about his squad, changed many things but went down with Arka – something they deserved for the minimalism in building of the team.
And finally, bottom of the table, Polonia Bytom. Jurij Szatałow started the season but after ten games, good games for Polonia, left for better job in Krakow. Jan Urban also did decent job, continued Szatałow’s work but decided that environment in Bytom is not good for building football and left after only couple of games. For the second round, they went for Robert Góralczyk, man who was coach of women national team once and have not worked in senior football for a long time. He wasn’t as bad as many thought he will be but when it was down to two last league rounds and Polonia was struggling, board decided that Dariusz Fornalak will be given chance (his third at Polonia!) to make impressive comeback. He didn’t. Was in the job for four days, lost two games and they went down. Club’s future is at stake now…
So, sixteen clubs and about thirty managers were in a job for some time – some of them survived the whole season, part of them were just a temporary solutions, even few got one game or so, others made a real change at new clubs. But this just shows that, despite debate about rising/falling level of quality of Polish league, boards often can only sack the manager, blame one man for own, players failings. Being a manager in Poland is not an easy job and pressure always comes first – unfortunately that means that no long-term plans can be made by coaches as the results are demanded from the day one. Also, it must be noted that same names are on the roll in Ekstraklasa manager market – only single young managers coming up but I think this trend will stop. Hopefully soon enough clubs will stop be so short sighted and put more faith in their managers – not to use every first reason to sack them…