The imitation trap. Wisla Krakow vs. reality

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Polish soccer is ruled by waves, which is best defined by an immortal anecdote concerning the former president of Korona Kielce. The activist in question, in reaction to the prevailing trends in domestic football, asked his colleagues to bring in a Spanish striker. There were no further specifics, tall, fast, ball-playing, excellent headshot – it doesn’t matter, he has to be Spanish. Others have Spanish, in others it works, so we too need to bring in someone who speaks beautiful Castilian.

This is, of course, an individual case, and an extreme one at that. On the other hand, to a lesser extent, it applies to virtually every club in Poland, every organization that, even with a powerful belief in its own idea and vision, is forced to look sideways. And more or less – to succumb to fads. Sometimes it’s quite specific decisions at the, let’s call it, operational level. You have three calls from managers, two propose a Slovak and a Czech, but the third has an outstanding player straight from sunny Mallorca. And yet you’ve seen Ivi Lopez in action, you’ve seen what Jesus Imaz can do, okay, bring on the Spaniard, we’re signing him. Similar players, similar profile, the chutzpah decides – his compatriots in Poland succeeded, so maybe he will also fire. Contrary to appearances – there have been several such waves in Polish football, from the fascination with players from the Balkans, brave and cheap, to the temporary fashion for Brazilians, to the search in Scandinavia for new Hamalainen. This, by the way, is not a bad thing to some extent – especially since imitating the best is not a bad way to develop your own know-how after some time.

Wisla Krakow wanted to copy

The problem arises when we want to copy solutions without providing the raw material to implement them. Just like the clubs that wanted Spanish magicians, but could only afford Spanish hacks. Just like the clubs that wanted to copy a management style based on the strong role of a sports director a’la Adamczuk at Pogon, but without anyone even close in competence to Adamczuk at Pogon. Well, and just like clubs that dreamed of the path of Rakov Czestochowa. And in my opinion – one of those clubs was Wisla Krakow of recent months.

Much has already been written about the dismissal of Jerzy Brzeczek himself – his performance, by the way, was reviewed by the whole of soccer Poland on an ongoing basis, as it happens with former selectors. The relegation of Wisla Krakow was one of the most important events in domestic soccer in recent years, especially since, after all, it happened to sort of climax the whole hectic period between the takeover of the club by Marzena Sarapata’s team and Jakub Blaszczykowski’s frank confession that he “fucked up.” Everything has happened in Wisla in recent years, everything has happened, and I take full responsibility for each of these words. Because by “everything” you have to understand the threat of a takeover of the club by Hulk Hogan for gold. “Everything,” meaning the deal that blew up because the Cambodian prince suffered a heart attack on the plane to New York. “Everything,” meaning the takeover of the 13-time Polish champion by a gang, followed by the escape of the head of that gang from a harsh sentence in a convenient Article 60, based on cooperation with law enforcement.

But organization is one thing, what also happened was “everything” when it came to the turf. Wisla Krakow only in the last period, already when the rescue trio used the credit of putting out the biggest fires in Wisla, after all, had Adrian Gula in the structures, at times tried on the biggest Polish clubs. There was a model based on Peter Hyballa’s gegenpressing, and finally there was the concentration of power in the hands of an outstanding professional, as Jerzy Brzęczek was considered to be. And it is the latter two visions of Wisla Krakow that are worth a separate discussion.

This is because they essentially set out twice from wall to wall. The first vision was consistent with the created image of a modern club, based on youthful enthusiasm, on solutions worthy of the third decade of the 21st century, in which, of course, the image was helped by Jaroslaw Krolewski, creating himself as the local Elon Musk. Tomasz Pasieczny in the role of sports director with considerable power, meaning no more transfer committees and perpetually meddling activists. Adrian Gula in the role of coach, that is, a foreign specialist with an interesting resume and a philosophy in line with current global trends. I don’t want to graze and enumerate how it ended, so I’ll go straight to vision two. Jerzy Brzenczek. As a coach. As close to the club’s owners. As a scouting director, sports director, as a man who furnishes the club in his own way. It’s hard not to get the impression that Brzenczek finally got the mission he wanted to accomplish already… at Rakow Czenstochowa. This is a rather often overlooked aspect, and yet it is not at all that it is an unimportant aspect. Before Rakow got involved with Marek Papszun, Michal Swierczewski relied on those who brought Rakow back from its knees and who saved Raków from bankruptcy. Jerzy Brzenczek was the coach at the time, but he was also the face of the rebuild. He came to Rakov when it was necessary to dress by candlelight, and he made it to the time of Michal Swierczewski, who wanted to build something really serious here. Brzenczek turned down offers from higher leagues because he wanted to be someone who would take Rakov from hell to heaven, who would climb the rungs, who would lead from poverty to money. He wanted to be what Marek Papszun became. After Michal Swierczewski and Jerzy Brzenczek parted ways.

Did Brzenczek now want to try a similar mission with a bigger club? To prove something to himself and the world, especially since, after all, he had ascended that coaching Olympus of leading the Polish national team along the way? It’s hard to judge. But I’m convinced that at Wisła Kraków they saw in Brzenczek someone like that – a man with competence, verve, character and diligence, but most of all a workshop to build something fully original. Papszun at times led to a revolution in the locker room, he was able to be unyielding and uncompromising, entered into conflicts, beheaded kings. He was given time, conditions, support, and then already with his hard work, his ideas, his intuition and knowledge, he led Czestochowa and himself to his current place in Polish football. Brzęczek, looking at his entire career, most likely wore a different size hat. Simply put, there is no point in getting offended or booed here. He wasn’t fit for the role he saw for himself, and he wasn’t fit for the role his loved ones saw him in – bad luck that they happened to be the ones deciding in which direction the White Star should sail.

Wisla introduced a new coach, a club legend took over the reins of the White Star

I’m usually a proponent of patience with coaches, I’m a proponent of an approach where if you’ve already decided on a vision, you just follow your own guidelines consistently. Worse when the vision is utopian, worst: when to the utopian vision you choose a performer with a completely different set of advantages and disadvantages….

Wisla Krakow – the dark and… darker side of the coin

From the perspective of Wisla Krakow, what is most disturbing? The first, key issue – today it’s building virtually from scratch. Wisla, after all its organizational and financial turmoil, has been forced to cut costs quite dramatically in recent months – which has obviously taken its toll on the number of people employed around building the club. Concentrating power in the hand of Jerzy Brzenczek was probably due to a desire to strengthen his position and confidence in his craft, but at the same time it was in line with the financial strategy adopted – Brzenczek was to implement what would otherwise have been broken down into a larger number of full-time positions. The plan was indeed clever, the snag is that Wisla remains:

  • without a convincing coach (Radoslaw Sobolewski seemed to be an emergency and temporary option, but it was quickly announced that he was, however, already the target coach to bring Wisla Krakow to the first league)
  • without a sports director
  • without extensive structures in the sphere of scouting
  • without financial backing to quickly mask the three previous shortcomings

This is one side of the coin, the dark one. What is the other? Well, even darker. Wisla Krakow is in the First League and cannot afford to spread its arms with resignation. “Okay, we screwed up, now we need a few months to rebuild the whole model of running the club, and next season we’ll fight for promotion.” No, what Wisla needs is a result for the here and now, it needs a quick bounce back towards the top two places, and in the spring it needs to quietly reach the national elite. It needs this not because of history, fans or other such values, it needs it for financial reasons. The current expenses in the first division can be spent for a year, then the cost column needs to be made more realistic with those on the revenue side (or a sudden injection of cash from sponsors/investors). That is, either cash from Canal+ or cuts that will again complicate the mission to return to the first league.

This is the whole secret of the First League, the whole scale of its difficulties. It’s not enough to have well-known names, not enough to have a higher budget, fanatical fans, nay, even to keep players who have performed not so tragically at all a rung higher. No one will give a guarantee of success here. No one will give points here for free in Chojnice, after all, before Wisla laid out on Chojniczanka, another team from the top of the table, LKS Lodz, lost. The league is difficult, specific, and the more difficult and specific the higher expectations, higher potential, higher pressure to score regularly. That’s why it’s so difficult for clubs that “have to” get out of it.

And Wisla Krakow, unfortunately for its fans, its owners, its new staff, is a club that “has to.”

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