When Wisła Krakow completed the worst week in the recent seasons with third straight defeat, what is worse in city’s derby, Robert Maaskant should know that his job is on the line. He should see the problems all over the pitch – notice how awful cooperation between the keeper and back line is, see constant defenders’ mistakes, what a uncreative midfield he has and the fact that ineffective strikers cost him as well. But then, when he was asked about his future at Wisła after the last whistle of the Krakow derby, he only smiled and said: “It looks fantastic!”
He seemed to be an optimist, maybe even a true one, but more will argue that it was only a performance from Dutch manager to hide the problems under the carpet, a show-off also once noticed in Leo Beenhakker’s behavior, when the latter was coach of the Polish national team. Those that claim the latest results weren’t necessarily his fault say that his achievement in only just nearly fifteen months speak for himself. He won the championship in very acceptable style, taking Wisła out of deep crisis that he found after succeeding Henryk Kasperczak last summer. He was only couple of minutes from club’s Holy Grail, the group stages of Champions League, but Cyprian APOEL proved to be too strong and only Europa League awaited for Polish title winners.
To be honest, he repeated the same tricks to make Wisła fans love him, that made us so fall for Leo Beenhakker when he was leading Polish national team to the 2008 European Championship – always smiling, talking about ‘positive’ football, introducing skillful players, achieving success, painting a picture of a happy and even more successful future. Yet Maaskant made the same mistakes on his way and even made them sooner than his fellow Dutchman.
There might be nothing wrong in staying positive when the first signs of the crisis, but defying the reality, not acknowledging the problems when they were so easily seen on the pitch effectively cost the 42-year-old manager the job. His fault is that he assessed the squad badly over the summer, thinking that what he had last season will be enough this time as well but even that wasn’t his biggest mistake. Unfortunately, Maaskant, along with Stan Valckx, club’s sports director, and the board, put all the money on experience with his signings and that simply proved to be shortsighted tactic in the modern world of fast football. Some of the players couldn’t cope on the European level when tougher challenges were put against them, not to mention that most of them failed cope with season’s hardships, not even half-way into new campaign.
There is a sadness though in Krakow today. In the summer Wisła’s fans thought that they have everything – board that is more less willing to spend money on proper players, young manager with full backing from the owner and the chairman, hard-working sports director and a squad that was compared to the best Wisła’s eleven we have seen in last two decades. The failure of this project probably hurts more than any other, because now Krakow’s biggest club had everything to not only be successful but also make the success a permanent thing at Reymonta.
Of course, panic and short-sighted thinking is also to blame for the decision to sack Robert Maaskant – three last managers to win the Polish title were sacked in the following season, something that says a lot about how football clubs are run here – but nobody should make the Dutchman a victim of vicious critique, huge pressure and unfair treatment. The blame is not full on him either and those responsible for current crisis should be more embarrassed about the mess than the most recent defeat in the most important game for Biała Gwiazda fans, against Cracovia in city derby.
This is not about the new manager effect everybody will count on once the replacement is found. What fans crave for is some stability, even in the time of deepest crisis, some wise decision making and for once not taking the easiest road. Wisła is just few games from the winter break and definitely the title wasn’t lost yet, nor it would be in a month of time – the game of ‘keep and wait’ should be played at Reymonta with Maaskant at the helm, with strong will to change the current look of Wisła.
Robert Maaskant was given a friendly tap on the shoulder as he walked out of the club this Monday but the biggest problem Wisła is facing now is not that they are currently manager-less – the most saddening fact is that he didn’t have to go at all, and the decision to let him go proves once again that the only reaction to crisis in Polish club football is not sense but further panic.