Leading the Polish Pack

In Poland, tongues were wagging last month about the appointment of two undemocratic leaders. One was the first EU president, the second the head coach of the national football team. The approach towards politics was decidedly similar to that towards football: in both cases, people have been clamouring for change and reform. So who was chosen to ring the changes?

Franciszek Smuda is the new head coach of the Polish national football team. The 61-year-old trainer, currently active at Zagłębie Lubin, who stand at the bottom of the Polish Ekstraklasa, has signed a deal which will keep him at the helm until at least the end of Euro 2012. As Poland has already qualified for that tournament as one of the two host nations- but has failed to qualify for the 2010 World Cup in South Africa – Smuda has to build a formidable team through friendly games over the next two and a half years.

Smuda is the successor of Stefan Majewski, who served as interim coach for two matches. Before that, Leo Beenhakker served in the top job for almost two and a half years. He managed to win Poland a place in the European Championships for the first time in the country’s history. However, at the tournament Poland failed to win a single game, leaving Euro 2008 with only one point during a 1-1 draw against Austria.

Franciszek Smuda is a very experienced man in Polish football. As a player, he served as a tough and uncompromising defender. He started his career at Stal Mielec in 1970. A year later he transferred to Piast Gliwice, before moving to the United States. He participated in the NASL and played for the Hartford Bicentennials. In 1975 Smuda returned to Poland to play for Legia Warszawa. In 1978 he returned to the USA again to play for three other NASL clubs. He finished his active career in 1982 at a lower league club in Germany, the country where he would also start his career as a manager.

He remained a manager at German lower league teams until he made a move to Turkey in 1988. From 1990 to 1992 he managed Konyaspor – the first time he was active as a manager in a top league. In 1993, Smuda moved back to Poland, saving Stal Mielec from relegation in his first season. His achievements were noted by then top team Widzew Łódź. In 1996 he led that team to become Polish champions and managed to get the club into the group stages of the UEFA Champions League. Until this day, he remains the last coach who has managed to do so. The Polish title was prolonged in 1997, but when Widzew got into trouble in 1998, Smuda was out.

In 1998, Smuda moved to Wisła Kraków and by the end of his first season he had managed to crown the team champions of Poland for the first time in 21 years. The top-rated and richest Polish team at that time, Legia Warsaw, picked Smuda up but he was to be unsuccessful with that side. After a short return to Wisła in 2001 and his other former team Widzew (2002), Smuda moved to Cyprus. There he finished third in the Cypriot league with AC Omonia. In 2005 he laid the foundations for success at Zagłębie Lubin, which would become champions in the 2006/07 season. By that time, Smuda had already moved to Lech Poznań, where a successful three-year stint awaited him and the team.

Smuda is known for being a hard but fair coach, with an emphasis on getting young talent through, supported by one or two more experienced players. After searching for the right mix, the 2008/09 season proved to be successful. With talented players such as Robert Lewandowski, Simar Stilic, Jakub Wilk, Sławomir Peszko and Hernan Rengifo, who were helped by more seasoned players such as Bartosz Bosacki, Manuel Arboleda and Piotr Reiss, Smuda made a team that was able to fight for the championship, win the Polish Cup and survive the group stages of the UEFA Cup, again the first and only time a coach of a Polish side has managed to do so. After three years Smuda thought it to be time for a new challenge and found it in saving his troubled old team Zagłębie Lubin.

Whether Franciszek Smuda will remain as head coach of his current club is still unclear. As Polish national team coach he has already declared that he will not make any use of imported, or naturalised players from abroad: “I do not desire yet another ‘Roger’ [Geurreiro] so a possible naturalisation and selection of somebody like Manuel Arboleda is out of the question.” Franciszek Smuda’s first match as new Polish head coach will come on 14 November, when Poland will meet with Romania in Warsaw.

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