Over eight matches of Polish clubs in Europe, just in one week, Lech, Legia, Śląsk and Ruch Chorzow have conceded nineteen goals, something that shows the difference between the level of top sides in the Ekstraklasa and even average sides challenging in the European Cups. It is no coincidence, that only Legia could snatch a promotion to the next round, while also Lech added honour win.
The biggest tragedy was the performance of top two sides from previous season - Ruch Chorzow lost 0-7 on aggregate to Viktoria Plzen, while Śląsk Wrocław was kicked out of the Champions League after three straight defeats, one against Buducnosti Podgorica and twice versus Swedish Helsingborgs. Both Polish sides were woeful in every football term you can think of, while decisions of both managers - the most and one of the least experienced in Polish football - deserve heavy critique.
But, thankfully, leaving the football reasons aside for a moment, perhaps the biggest worry is the lack of ambition that surrounds these defeats - no one at Lech, Śląsk, Ruch and even Legia was seen criticizing players or managers for the lack of effort, insufficient preparations, poor quality and, most importantly, for the lack of results. It seems that no one in Chorzow, Wroclaw, Warszawa or Poznan hoped or expected the progression to the next round - as you would guess, there is no reaction whatsoever after these results.
It is strange, given how much the continental experience means, how much simply playing there means - latest financial report on Ekstraklasa from Deloitte proves that teams that were performing the best in the last season in Europe, Wisła Krakow and Legia Warsaw, could count on bigger incomes than other clubs. In fact, the difference between Wisła and third ranked club is almost 17 million Polish Zlotys. Staggering sum, given that only seven clubs have bigger incomes in general than that.
Legia is better example, becoming the leaders of the financial league in Poland for the first time since it is prepared, noting 127% growth of income over a single year - from 28.4m PLN to 64.3m PLN - which is down to the opening of a new stand and, mostly, playing in Europe till early spring. Lech Poznan, finding themselves out of European spots after poor finish to the 2010/2011 season, claimed a decrease of incomes by third part, surely a sum that pushed them to selling Ekstraklasa's best scorer, Artiom Rudnev. That said decrease, counted by Deloitte at 22m PLN, is more than budgets of two thirds league clubs!
Of course, the financial difference between Poland and five top leagues in Europe (Spanish, English, French, German and Italian) is still huge - the biggest is between Premier League and Ekstraklasa, where incomes of the latter are twenty nine times lower. The smallest gap is between Poland and France, as League 1 generates incomes at the level twelve times higher.
This however, does not mean that the level of expectations should reach such low as it did. Once Ruch Chorzow was drawn against Viktoria Plzen, a club of richer recent history in Europe than Polish side, but lower budget, it was made clear in the club that the pressure will come only if in the first game a draw will be achieved. As Tomasz Fornalik said, they really hoped to keep goalless score in Chorzow and then count on another draw, albeit with goals - today, after 0-5 defeat, there is no question that Ruch's plans went seriously wrong.
Should they hope for a win from the start? Of course, their expectations should be reasonable, yet there is nothing wrong in being ambitious as well. Especially, if the resources are growing, the reputation as well and ways to increase own budgets were never as wide as they are now, after Euro 2012 and the enthusiasm that surrounded the tournament. With that kind of performances, clubs are not helping to sustain the buzz around domestic football - even if it was previously lowered by poor results of the national team.
The difference can be seen on the example of Ruch Chorzow, once again. They are regarded as rather small-budget club, their incomes were ranked at 12th position by Deloitte, number smaller than Śląsk's gain from winning the championship, but even that makes them a target more attractive than their rivals, Viktoria Plzen. There, as was noted by Polish press, top players earn no more than 5000 Euro each month, sum rather average in the Ekstraklasa.
To be fair, three out of four clubs that have played in Europe can attract at least one player of the average level, of notable experience in top leagues. Legia had three players like that last season in Danijel Ljuboja, Nacho Novo and Ismael Blanco - of course the last two have failed due to lack of sufficient preparations and when they were introduced, they were out of form. Wisła also tried that way and they were seconds from the holy gates of the financial paradise, the Champions League.
Lech and Śląsk never even tried to do so, to bring an influential foreigner with admirable experience, someone that would be a stand out leader and an example for rest of the team. Legia, in Danijel Ljuboja, have a perfect example of a cleverness, intelligence and character - all combined with qualities like technique and vision. Ljuboja was hardly a crowd stealer abroad, his reputation never reached certain levels and definitely has never stayed there for long anyway. But his impact on Legia was and is simply priceless.
Once they can certainly afford it, there are other factors that should attract such foreigners, not only growing wages or bonuses promised on the paper - new, huge stadiums, fanatic and loud support, as well as good media coverage that is spreading wider around Europe. But clubs seem clueless of how to take advantage of that.
Śląsk, the champions, set the ticket prices on such high level for the Champions League qualifying games against Helsingborgs that attracted only mere 14000 people to a 40000 all-seated stadium. Lech Poznan, meanwhile, could not recognize remarkable turnout of fans in the earlier stages of the Europa League - meaning high hopes obviously - and then failed to match their ambitions with at least one transfer that would give the manager Mariusz Rumak more options. Or more chances to beat AIK Stockholm. When it was all lost, only 13000 turned up for the second leg. The club budget will remain at the same level, as not even one TV station decided to broadcast the match.
If clubs are unwilling to use the money on experienced players from abroad - that, arguably, means often risky deals with players over their best time on the pitch, less ambition as well - then they should invest it wisely, not on overrated domestic so-called stars, whose biggest hopes are connected with restricted to decent contract. Base, youth, coaching, scouting... this is the same, old story but should be repeated till people ruling in football understand what the real worth is. And that, in fact, they have everything in their own hands to make it happen - though they struggle for an idea of how to use them, how and where invest. It is not important how much money do you have, but what use you will make of it.
The latest results are not only reflection of lack of ambition or lack of quality of Polish sides - the biggest worry is that they are clueless of how to make themselves repeatedly successful in Europe. After heavy defeats, all three managers, Mariusz Rumak at Lech, Orest Lenczyk at Śląsk and Tomasz Fornalik at Ruch spoke of positives and that the experiences will reward in the future. Unfortunately, as Thomas Hardy has put it "there is a condition worse than blindness, and that is, seeing something that isn't there."