3 maj 2012

Smuda's squad is a sign of sacrification

Minutes after Franciszek Smuda called up 26 players of the initial Poland squad for Euro 2012, the critique had begun. It was easy to predict that whatever his choice will be, the praise will unlikely follow decisions of once crowds' favorite. The most important thing for Smuda, though, is not who he went for, who got the chance, but how much the man in charge changed over the time of his tenure. The final squad is, after all, the best example of how many things he had to sacrifice in order to survive and keep the status quo.

Whatever fans think about Smuda - and after thirty months in charge the range of opinions differs a lot - it must be noticed that he couldn't keep the way he wanted to rule his squad just after signing the contract. Possibilities were short back in early 2010, when, following disastrous World Cup qualifying campaign, as Poland finished just above San Marino, he optimistically looked at the squad and shared the view of a spectacular change. Nothing like that happened, nor that Smuda wasn't trying - the players were too poor to play the game he wanted.

Short-passing, possession keeping, high-pressing football team shaped in 4-3-3 was only a dream, shattered brutally by Spain in a 0-6 defeat, when his brave tactics were also a stupid one, unrealistic. It was not Smuda who noticed that this is not the way they will or should play, as players, unable to convince him during the training camps, went to the medias for help. The effect will be seen against Greece at Euro 2012, the opening game, played perfectly two years after the lesson in Spain.

So the style differs, and is far from initial plan and hopes of Smuda, yet that may not necessarily mean anything bad - it is, after all, something that every manager of average national team has to do - fit the system to the players he has. When it dawned on Smuda that he hasn't got the players and they are not willing to help him develop his changes, he had to change his squad - in short, prepare for counter-attacking football and to do everything to support Lewandowski.

That means rather fast-played football, based on individuals rather than trained schemes - fans haven't seen much of them during any of Smuda games, while the only thing he succeeded at, was teaching them how, off the ball, get behind the line of it and defend as fast as possible, move swiftly from right to left. Out of ten midfielders he called up, five of them fit the type of a player that operates on the wing, has to win as many one-on-one's as possible and, most importantly, create for Lewandowski. 

Grosicki, Rybus, Błaszczykowski, Obraniak and Wolski - while striker Kucharczyk is also known for playing as a winger for Legia - are quite similar players, though at different level, obviously. Smuda would probably call up Peszko as well, if he hadn't involve himself in the drinking scandal - after all, the coach had forgiven him once, to have better, more experienced options than, lets say, Wolski, yet couldn't risk losing face or the respect - what was left of it.

Also there could be an example of Sobiech, player more similar to Lewandowski in terms of style - given that he can play as the target man or dropping back to keep the ball, play it sideways. But his inclusion shows another sacrifice of Smuda, who once notably said, that he will not call up those who have not been playing regularly at their clubs. 

Some took it more seriously than others - Obraniak, Brożek, Jeleń all moved with hope that their position in the national team will change, the place at Euro 2012 will be prepared for them, although it only worked out for Lille's midfielder, as both strikers failed miserably at Celtic and Lille respectively. Tomasz Kuszczak was probably the most frustrated one - he was fourth most often playing keeper under Smuda and risked a row with sir Alex Ferguson to be finally send to Watford but mysteriously, it was too late for the Poland's coach. Kuszczak is nowhere near the squad.

But others are, even though their club situation is questionable at best. Łukasz Fabiański struggled for form and health, being far behind Szczęsny in the all-Arsenal competition. Przemysław Tytoń had an awful injury, admittedly, but couldn't find his way back to the PSV goal when he was cleared to play. With Sandomierski a failure in Belgium and only fourth-fifth best keeper in Polish Ekstraklasa, Smuda's resignation of those regularly playing - Boruc and Kuszczak - has left him with only Szczęsny as the well prepared goalie. Once Poland was regarded as a squad who never had to worry about this position, while now, mostly because of Smuda's stubbornness, the questions about Fabiański's and Tytoń's form are valid.

This situation does not get better up-field - Damien Perquis (Sochaux) and Sebastian Boenisch (Werder) are both after very dangerous injuries that could have kept them away from the tournament, while their form is a question mark and will have to be shaped by Smuda - is there enough of time, though? Matuszczyk and Mierzejewski are maybe not as important as the French-German duo in Smuda's back line, yet their struggle at Koln, Fortuna Dusseldorf and Trabzonspor is well known and unquestionable. Brożek and Sobiech are similar - yet the latter was much better at adapting to substitute role at Hannover, despite initially failing to make himself count. 

That makes eight players, two from each formation, that haven't enjoyed their club season and are unprepared, in bad shape and generally poor mood because of that - maybe even looking for a move to change their situation. There is so many factors that might influence their performances, that Smuda must be aware of what he is risking. What he said at the start of his adventure with the national team is less important now, he wasn't as sure of his selection as he should be, while when he will get them together, this will be the moment when his work will start. 

Of course, that is unfortunate and Smuda must know what challenge is ahead of him and that not necessary means the Greece game. It is easy to say that he put his career and name on the line with that selection, but it can be said that it happened when he started showing the very first signs of frustration at the lack of development of his project. That quickly have led to in-consequences and mistakes, nervous acts between and during the games, which could be easily seen straight after yesterday's selection finale - irritation, anger and annoyance at reporters' questions expressed just as much.

Franciszek Smuda, whatever the evaluation of his job is, maybe failed at speaking the words of wisdom to the nation and putting arguments behind his decisions, yet when he faced the question of what he is ready to sacrifice for the team, he knew straight away. His beliefs, reputation and even whole career is on the line but there is one question that remains unanswered for Smuda - are his players ready to sacrifice as much?

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