29 paź 2012

Boniek on a mission

Zbigniew Boniek might never felt so comfortable in the flesh since his hat-trick against Belgium during World Cup in 1982 but thirty years later his satisfaction was once again completed. Arguably one of the most completed Polish players that ever graced football's top stages, his mission in Boniek's home country was never completed. Until now.

His presence in last decade in Polish football is not a story of a winner - if anything, it is quite different one. In 2002 he stepped into the Poland managerial job to rebuild what was left following unsuccessful - if not embarrassing - adventure in South Korea and Japan. But Boniek's touch on the team was hardly one of Midas, noting just two wins in five as Euro 2004 campaign got tough from the start. He never finished his mission, though, infamously sending his resignation via fax from Rome, backing his decision with personal issues.

Boniek's next steps in Poland were made at the clubs he was part of as a player but neither Widzew Łódź, nor Zawisza Bydgoszcz made any impact on the league - in fact, the former are now suffering from huge financial problems, while the latter is still only one of favourites to win promotion to Ekstraklasa. 

His presence in the media, however, was quite different. Always well spoken and with a cheeky response prepared, he enjoyed himself as a TV pundit, but never felt there is a need for him to step up. Only when Poland surprisingly won the co-hosting rights for Euro 2012 he decided that Grzegorz Lato's candidature for PZPN's presidential elections may bring unnecessary embarrassment for the time of preparations, putting himself in the race.

He never lasted to the final round, though, pulling out when it became clear that his candidature is not even second best. "You wanted to have a bike, now pedal harder" - were his words to Lato as he dismissed the offer of becoming PZPN's vice-president. It might have been his best decision too, judging by how Lato's popularity piked since that nomination.

Now it got real - after coming back from his morning jog in the Poland sweat suit, he left his opposition far behind in elections and after busy weekend of hooping from one TV studio to another, his works starts. "I have to change my phone number" - he confessed after turning down yet another call during his interview for Przeglad Sportowy - "at this rate, I won't be able to do my job."

It is hard to recall a PZPN president who would enjoy bigger and warmer reception at his election - for some it seems like a dream-come-true. One of the biggest and most controversial Polish football website, Weszlo.com, didn't even try to hide their pleasure at Boniek's appointment, simply noting that the expectations just got real.

Popular "Zibi" seems aware of the fact, too. "If it was someone else in my place, then next step would be only in the right direction" - he said after his nomination - "but for me, given the level of expectations, I know I can only go backwards."

The level of challenge ahead of him is huge, as Boniek himself admits that both, people and the statute of PZPN, are reminding him too much of the communism - in fact, one of the federation's director's nickname is Lukashenko, after Belarus' president. The construction of federation's new headquarters is only one of burning issues, as miscommunication and laziness have brought many moments of embarrassment for Polish football. It is not only the open-closed roof at the National Stadium for the England game, but also how board members abused themselves in the VIP sectors during one of Poland matches at Euro 2012 with strong part of UEFA representatives present and shocked.

Even the latest elections in the Sheraton hotel brought scenes quite familiar for every football fan in Poland. The speech of one of the candidates - Edward Potok, brought memories of communism times when army authorities ruled the public media. "What the fuck was that?" - asked one of delegates, Zbigniew Lach in a TV interview. He had a comical speech himself, emotional one, and got into a further controversy when it all came down to the elections of the board, arguing with one of candidates.

The image was clear but Boniek's appointment made it a bit blur - the hope surrounded the federation, as his first decision was to lower the prices for the Uruguay match next month in Gdansk. Fans' person? "I would sing it myself if I think we deserve it" - said Boniek when asked about one of popular, yet particularly abusive chants present at every Polish stadium, no matter what level, directed at PZPN. 

His ideas are less obvious but one of the most important things is that he reminds open for ideas. He confessed that his dream is to start a national youth league or tournament, while first months Boniek will spend checking the structures and assessing the federations budget. "We cannot spend 60 million Polish Zlotys on new headquarters when there are clubs dying in poverty" - he rightly pointed out, giving himself three months for corporate refurbishments inside Polish football federation. 

His plan for the future - as of the other candidates - wasn't ever publicly declared and it is uncertain whether behind big hopes there are reasonable ideas of which way Polish game should go. In recent decades it was build on declarations expressed in language that was maybe understandable in football, but more than twenty years ago, in different era of the sport. Boniek's first challenge is to prove that not only his thinking is forward-directed, but also actions of 62-year-old ex-Juventus striker match his declarations.

"But this is only this weekend, believe me" - Zbigniew Boniek replied during one of TV interviews, at the question of his presence in the media after elections - "on Monday, hard work starts for my." His mission really seems like cleaning the mythical Augeas' Stables - hopefully his enthusiasm will not drop at any of stage of getting through some particular excrement left by Boniek's predecessors.


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