The hardest choice
While all of Dortmund still is celebrating the Deutsche Meisterschaft, we today have a closer look on the Piszczek affair, that has been big news in Poland over the past few months. Michal Zachodny and TheFootballRamble were kind enough to let us publish this article
The bomb has been ticking for some time now and it will blow up right in the face of Franciszek Smuda, manager of the Polish national team. The man was criticized for so many things during his eighteen month tenure, most of it right and backed by big names in Polish football, but the main thing the media and fans are talking about at the moment is inconsistency. Especially when it is all about Lukasz Piszczek, right-back at Borussia Dortmund, probably one of the best transfers this season in the Bundesliga and, sadly, a player who was found guilty of corruption during his time in Zaglebie Lubin.
It was the beginning of the summer in 2006, last round in the Polish league and with the title decided a week ago, the score in a game between Legia Warszawa (first) and Wisla Kraków (second) did not matter at all. But there was a fight for the third place, the last one that gave promotion to Europe. Zaglebie Lubin was in a good position with advantage over Amica Wronki and they needed only one point from their away game against Cracovia to make sure they would play in the UEFA Cup the next season. Amica won, Zaglebie drew 0-0 but it was not clear at all. Fast forward to the 2011 and we now know that a couple of players turned to Lubin footballers and offered them the right score for 100,000 PLN (around 25,000 Euro). They needed only few days to get this money, asking different players to pay their part. Among them, 20-year-old Lukasz Piszczek, who played his full season that year. Under whose management? Franciszek Smuda.
He, among the other more experienced and influential inside Zaglebie changing room, paid for this draw, although he missed that crucial game. Later all that were involved in fixing this match were found guilty, got huge fines and suspended jail sentences. This is not only the case of Lukasz Piszczek but also Maciej Iwanski (currently playing for Manisaspor in Turkey), Lukasz Mierzejewski (Cracovia), Michal Stasiak and Grzegorz Bartczak (both still at Zaglebie). Stasiak and Bartczak have been suspended by their current club but let's take a look at Lukasz Piszczek mainly. After all, he is one of the brightest stars of a Polish national team that is failing to match the level of fans' expectations.
Piszczek came to Borussia after a disastrous last season at Herta Berlin in which his club went down despite huge ambitions. His transfer was a mystery but it quickly turned out that he can be a right back in the best defence in the Bundesliga. He is known for his fantastic runs down the flank, great pace and ability to find his teammates inside the box with decent crosses. Out of the three Poles playing their part in Borussia's successful season, he arguably is the best one and that is some achievement when you look at the competition – Kuba Blaszczykowski, the energetic winger, and Robert Lewandowski, top scorer in Polish top-flight before he came to Germany.
This trio is even more important to Franciszek Smuda than it is to Jurgen Klopp – Blaszczykowski is the captain, Piszczek the best defender and Lewandowski leads the line and scores important goals for Poland. But after the case of the Cracovia-Zaglbie game went to court and all involved were found guilty, he media jumped on some other topic – whether a footballer that was involved in corruption should play in the national team. A moral choice that had to come out once, given the scale of the problem in Poland over the years, with hundreds of players, managers and referees arrested and dozens of clubs punished with fines and relegations.
The whole discussion was frankly started with yet another example of Smuda's inconsistency. When he took over the national team and assessed his squad, several names came out, mainly the one of Rafal Grzyb, defensive midfielder playing currently at Jagiellonia Bialystok. He was in similar situation to Piszczek – youngster in the team, seeking for approval and not looking for any problem from his team-mates, he agreed to pay his part in selling one game in 2005 when he was playing for small club Walka Makoszowy. Smuda, when asked about the possibility of calling up a player with a court sentence, angrily refused to do so, claiming that there is no place for footballers with any episodes involving corruption in their careers. But it seems that for the Polish national team manager there is an exception to this rule, especially when his team may suffer from such a loss.
The problem was handled differently in Poland so far – some clubs refuse to sign players that were proved to be involved in corruption even once in their life, sacking those who were arrested for sins from the past while playing at a different club. Slask Wroclaw did just that when their reserve goalkeeper, Jacek Banaszylski was taken by police from the showers after their win in the League Cup final two season ago. But there are those who give those players a second chance, as the league's second club at the moment, Jagiellonia Bialystok which has three footballers proven guilty – Hermes, Rafal Grzyb and Jaroslaw Lato – are playing like nothing had happened.
Smuda went furious when the media recalled his words – he said that, as a young player seeking for approval inside the dressing room, Piszczek had simply no choice than to give his share to buy that draw as he would be trashed if he'd refused his team-mates. And he is talking about the dressing room he managed at that time. Then he went even more berserk saying that the media create a bad atmosphere around the national team on purpose and picture Piszczek as the one who invented corruption, is guilty of the whole problem in the first place.
The player, who agreed to his sentence and fault, is yet to decide whether to resign from playing for the national team, reportedly being very upset of how he is presented in the Polish media. Different ways of punishment were proposed by that same media – that he would pay the money he gained from that European promotion to charity, that he will not play in the national team for a year or that he will not play in the national team at all.
Personally, I'm a big fan of Lukasz Piszczek. Over the years when he was player even as a striker or left winger, managers struggled to find his position, you could see the talent he has, the talent that suffers. His move to Berlin was not supported, even laughed at but he is not laughing at his critics, playing every game for future German champions. I love watching him play, he has energy, pace, great runs, crosses, will to go forward and I am first to know and recognize his value to the national team. With as many problems as Smuda has in putting four good players at the back to prevent rivals from scoring, he is priceless for the national team.
However, every time I think about the problem Polish football still has to tackle, the old ghosts it still has to fight with, I recall games that I have been to where I've watched my team lose only to find out just a few years later that they have been fixed by opponents. That's why my team had to play for one more season in third league instead of gaining promotion to the second. That's why they went down in the first place few years earlier.
Kuba Blaszczykowski, defending his team-mate from what he called an 'undeserved' campaign in the media, said: 'He picked lesser of two evils at that time. Somebody who had anything to do with football knows what I'm talking about'. But the point is that it was people inside the game that caused the problem in the first place. They refused to break the silence, they agreed to pay for the games instead of trying to win them on the pitch. They took it to the point where there was no option for fair play, when they simply had to buy to win or survive. They did it, no matter if they were 20-year-old or 35-year-old, they were players, referees or managers – they are all to blame. They are all to carry the problem and handle it with pride, whether there is anything left of it.
To call football fans in Poland disappointed would be a great understatement. We are angry, when it turns out that such a huge talent had to pay his share not to have his career stopped. That a manager that is now trusted to handle the hopes of a whole nation hosting Euro 2012, did not know that his players are planning to buy the game of the season behind his back. We are disappointed when clubs are relegated and corrupt players, managers and referees are still inside the game like nothing had happened. In a result, fans suffer, not them. That's why we need to cut off this problem.
I'm more than sure that Lukasz Piszczek will be fine and his career will flourish, this great season with BVB will not be the peak of it. And who knows, maybe the redemption will come, along with a second chance but there is only one thing that can heal the wounds and it's not blaming each other, fighting with words, insulting each other. It's time – Polish football needs it to shrug off the issue, handle it and come clear out of it. Time will help but now we need decisions, even painful ones. Leaving it to fade away is not an option – the problem and pressure on the manager and player will only grow and that will lead to nervous, wrong decisions. This is not what Polish team needs right now.
Michal Zachodny is a freelance football writer and the editor of polishscout.blogspot.com, an intriguing look at the colourful world of Polish football. This article was first published by The Football Ramble. We strongly advise you to bookmark both the PolishScout Blog and the FootballRamble Blog. Many thanks to Michal Zachodny and The Football Ramble
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