Widzew Łódź is back on top of the table and it's not middle of the nineties but 2012, as Radosław Mroczkowski's men won 12 points out of as many possible, sending out Polish top two teams of last season home, winning away at spring round winners Zagłębie Lubin and easing past Ekstraklasa strugglers GKS Bełchatów.
Did they spent big this summer to make old memories real once again? Or maybe Widzew build their squad steadily, recording progress that finally allowed them to become a title-challenging side in Polish football? Is Radosław Mroczkowski a person people would expect to do well with his side this year?
The answer to all of these questions is negative. To be fair, the only resemblance to the side that have won the back-to-back titles in 1996 and 1997 is their position after four rounds of football. The last team to play in the Champions League group stages was a team full of talent, with some fantastic players and ones that would make half-decent careers abroad, cost and earn millions
Of course, there is always the same stadium. Ruined even more with each year, with grass allowed to grow on the stands, seats only dirtier and roof more leaking with each season. Things have not moved forward in Łódź in this terms, but current ground remains an important place if You want to understand why current Widzew only in the table is on the up, while the reality hits them hard.
Sylwester Cacek is club's owner and owner of few restaurants - as every previous investor, he was promised new ground for Widzew or significant improvements at the current one. He waited for years, putting own money and running the club in less or more controversial way, but he strived on promises made by Łódź authorities. By 2012, he had enough of the wait.
Every week he is spending two days at the club and tries to do as much as possible but the flow of money has stopped - only recently Widzew announced that there will be cut in employment and one quite significant. Big earners were sold or simply let go - impressive left-back from Brazil, Dudu Paraiba, one of the best assistants in the last season, now plays second-tier football in Mexico, though he was connected with several bigger clubs in Poland.
All in all, fifteen players went from the club this summer, while replacements were hardly impressive - for example, Alex Bruno was signed on free as he joined the team on the training camp abroad as he lived just few miles from the pitch and thought he will give it a shot. The only significant signings were Sebastian Dudek from Polish champions - although at 33. he doesn't have a lot ahead of him - and French defender Thomas Phibel who leads the back line with his experience taken from top-tier football in Belgium.
Others? In the first four games this season Mroczkowski used only four subs from his wide squad - all of them being under twenty and each time impressive with their skills, ambition and runs. Rybicki, Stępiński, and Pietrowski are the names to remember for each Ekstraklasa fan.
They are not playing much complicated football - depending a lot on counters and temporary pressing on rival's half, few times in game. Taking advantage from mistakes is also their thing, while reducing own defects to minimum and simply clearing any danger makes life a lot easier for experienced goalkeeper and team's captain Maciej Mielcarz. He only let one goal so far.
Dudek is central to everything Widzew creates, though to say that he is one of league's sensations is something to far. He is the very same player he was for Śląsk - irritatingly keeping the ball for far too long, dancing on the thing with rivals, getting fouled a lot and putting the right passes while not doing much sprinting. But he is experienced and others follow his instructions - his exit at Śląsk maybe was in conflict but there is no other player in the Ekstraklasa that would be so influential from day one at his new job.
Radosław Mroczkowski is a man of mystery - he isn't a man for great interview, rarely getting in the spotlight because of team's results. "I have my own philosophy of work" - he said in one of them - "I am not reacting passionately, it often works against you to be honest."
If anything, he is very patient man. Building a side without real budget and facing clear out in his squad without any chance to say "no" is not a dream land for any manager. But, as his players, he only got his head down and start working harder than ever, motivating his young team and building it around experienced yet all in all unimpressive leaders. He speaks highly of Sylwester Cacek but must know that times will even get harder - especially as the owner threatens to move out of the club that now has lost support of ultras groups, as fans opposed to his lack of investment in Widzew.
But that is enough to be a league leader. Alex Bruno may have been signed only after a dodgy recommendation during training camp in Cyprus, earning hundredth or even thousandth part of what league most expensive players do, living in a dump in Łódź with seven other sub-locators... but he scored twice so far and was his reputation is on the up, as Widzew's. Glory may not last for long, but at least the confidence is growing. It seems that work on mental side of the team - no matter how shattered, how young or how problematic - can give you an edge over league leaders in Poland. Easy peasy, right?