Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Krystian Bielik's Transfer - I'M OUTRAGED!

In the Polish football world, being able to make any sort of money off player transfers is considered a big deal. Lech still talk wistfully about the €4.5 million they were able to make off Robert Lewandowski, and that was five years ago. Not surprisingly, Legia Warsaw, the club who sit on top of the Ekstraklasa and appear to be making themselves very comfortable up there, have become pretty good at flipping players as though they were suburban homes after the American housing bubble burst. 
Bielik with first team action with Legia.

Lech, on the other hand, haven't found that same ability to continuously bring in talent before moving it on for a considerably higher fee. There's been the occasional move, such as Tonev to Aston Villa or Artjoms Rudnevs' move to Hamburg, but for the most part the club struggle to move players for considerable amounts of money. Cue the Krystian Bielik transfer and a whole new level of incompetence by Lech's upper management. To borrow a phrase from former Lech and U.S. Mens National Team player Jimmy Conrad: I'M F$%KING OUTRAGED!

As recently as last summer, Krystian Bielik was a member of the Lech Poznań academy, one of the best in the country. As he says, he signed with Polish agent Cezary Kucharski, a move which would rankle feathers among coaches and upper management at the academy as youth players are forbidden from having agents. Kucharski quickly told him of interest from Warsaw, and shortly after that, the highly-rated Bielik was off to join Lech's biggest rival, with promises of first team chances. Legia paid Lech a paltry sum of 50,000 Polish złoty, or about $13,500. For those of you keeping track of this transfer, Legia are set to make about €2.5 million up front, with likely add-ons after that.

My reaction to seeing those numbers.
Lech's upper management likes to talk non-stop about how much money they put into the academy and that we have some of the best facilities for youth in Poland to develop. Yet, there appears to be very little strategy in integrating these youngsters into the first team and eventually selling them, as a club of our stature should be doing. Lech were lucky so far in keeping youngsters like Dawid Kownacki, Karol Linetty, and Marcin Kaminski so far; but it's yet to be seen if they'll be able to sell them on for a bigger fee or lose them when contracts run out. So far, it's been mainly quiet from the Lech front, sadly. Now is the time for them to tell fans what the new strategy will be to keep youth players filtering in to the first team, and then sending them on to bigger European clubs when the time comes. Otherwise, we'll continue to fall further and further behind Legia.  

Best of luck to Krystian Bielik in his future and development with Arsenal.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Part 2 of 2: Interview with Stjarnan F.C.’s American, Pablo Punyed

What ended as disappointment for Lech fans in terms of another failed European campaign, was a joyous occasion for our opponents FC Stjarnan. Once again, Pablo Punyed was nice enough to share with us what the perspective is from the minnow's side in advancing in the Europa League. 

What were your impressions of the Lech Poznan squad?
Pablo Punyed: Lech Poznan are a fantastic group of players, and I have nothing but respect for them. They are well-coached, very technical, and have some special players who can beat you off the 1v1. Their number 8 and Derko (number 16) are two of their players who stood out to me the most, and will be key players to Poznan's run in the league this year for sure. I wish the whole squad, and the entire organization, the very best in their league run and beyond!

What was the experience like of playing at the Inea Stadium in Poznan?
PP: The INEA stadium was without a doubt one of the most memorable stages for me. When we were driving up with the bus for the first time I could see its grandeur. The facilities are world class! Everyone who worked in the stadium treated us with total professionalism and I appreciate that. The stadium from the pitch seems to envelop you into its charm. And of course the fans; the fans were phenomenal! The atmosphere in the stadium was so explosive because the fans kept singing and jumping throughout the 90 minutes. And even after the game, when the fans clapped us because of our efforts, that showed me their class. I didn't want to leave the pitch; it's one of those nights you wish could last forever! I will cherish it very dearly.

Final thoughts? 
PP: Top club, top stadium, top fans: nothing more to say but thanks to all the people from Poznan who made that possible!

Lech fans showed true class at the end of the tie. As you can see in the video below, after initially whistling/jeering the Lech squad off the pitch, the fans begin to applaud and celebrate with the Stjarnan players. Well deserved for their energy, commitment, and class over the two legs.

We wish Pablo and Stjarnan all the best in the rest of their European campaign and season! 

Friday, August 1, 2014

Part 1 of 2: Interview with Stjarnan F.C.’s American, Pablo Punyed

Lech fans are hoping that their team can overturn their 0:1 first-leg loss to Icelandic side Stjarnan F.C. next Thursday when the two meet in Poznan for their Europa League encounter. One person who will be looking to spoil the party is Stjarnan's American: Pablo Punyed. Pablo was kind enough to answer some questions for us before the game, and will also fill us in on his thoughts after the second leg.

How did you end up in Iceland and at Stjarnan in particular? 
Pablo Punyed: I had the opportunity to play in Iceland two years ago, and though I knew little about the league, I knew (and still know) that this league is a stepping stone to the better leagues I aspire to play in. I took the opportunity, and after my contract was up with Fylkir (of Iceland) after last season, Stjarnan showed interest in me and it turned out to be a real good decision. The team is fantastic, the guys are very welcoming to me, and we are hoping to take the team to the next level.

What's it like playing in Iceland?
PP: Playing in Iceland is very underrated, and I'm not sure why. The national team is doing well. Teams like FH and KR and now Stjarnan are performing in Europe, and Icelandic players are playing all over Europe, successfully. The league is growing every year, and personally I am getting the experience I need to hopefully take the next step in my career when the time is right. I enjoy it very much here.

Photo via culebritamacheteada

Stjarnan are famous worldwide for their goal celebrations in the past. Any chance the team brings it back during Europa League play?
PP: This is a very common question I get when doing an interview. The celebrations are a fantastic way to express ourselves on the pitch. Recently the team is focusing more on performing football-wise rather than the celebrations for goals, but you can never write off such creative individuals! Perhaps scoring at Poznan will bring out the creativity for a cool celebration.

Where does Stjarnan's great play in qualifying come from? You have eliminated two teams, including Scottish side Motherwell F.C., and have won the first leg against Lech 1:0.
PP: Stjarnan's recent form in the league and in Europa is no coincidence. Off the pitch, the team is tight-knit and gets along well and that gives us confidence on the pitch to express our individual game within the team's margin. On the pitch we have the players who work hard and perform week in and week out. We are taking this first European adventure as a learning experience, but we are all clear on one thing: we want more! 

How do you feel going from playing in front of relatively tiny crowds in Iceland, to playing for over 20,000 people in Poznan, in a stadium that hosted Euro 2012 matches?
PP: I am very excited! To be honest the amount of people watching a game makes little difference to me, as I always try to play my game either way, but it is very exciting when thinking about the occasion. I guess it's an advantage that I don't understand Polish because I won't be focused on what the fans will be screaming. This game on Thursday is a final for both teams, and I look forward to playing in front of very passionate fans in a world-class stadium!

Follow Pablo on Twitter at @PabloPunyed

Friday, July 25, 2014

Lech To Face Stjarnan In Europa League Qualifying

With yesterday's 3:0 win at home, Lech sealed their spot in the third qualifying round of the Europa League. Though it wasn't entirely assured after the first leg, their performance in the past two games has certainly given us confidence that this is actually a side who could make a run in to the group stage of Europe's second continental tournament.

But wait, it gets even better. Standing in their way in the third qualifying round is Icelandic club Stjarnan F.C. Right off the bat, you're probably thinking you've never heard of this club...but you have. Stjarnan rose to international prominence a few years ago for their imaginative and unique goal celebrations. You can see some of the best in the video below.

Needless to say, it'd be fine if we got to see Stjarnan score once and do ONE goal celebration, assuming that Lech respond to this with at least 4-5 goals of their own. This will be a tricky tie, Stjarnan eliminated Motherwell F.C., but with the second leg once again coming back to Poznan, it's nothing the Railwaymen shouldn't have trouble getting through. 

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Karol Linetty Linked With Tottenham Move

The Sun

Headlines in English tabloid The Sun are linking London club Tottenham Hotspur with a 2 million pound move for midfielder Karol Linetty. Lech would be adding around 12 million Polish złoty to their coffers, which would be a pretty good return on investment for an academy product. Is this necessarily the best move for the player though? Probably not.

After Robert Lewandowski's four-goal demolition of Real Madrid in the Champions League semi-final two seasons ago, a story went around about Blackburn missing out on signing him cheap from Lech due to the volcano explosion in Iceland. Despite being for the most part untrue (Lewandowski was never seriously considering the offer from Blackburn), this story has a life of its own, that will never let it die. So now, it's in vogue to find some young Central or Eastern European starlet on the cheap (imagine too if you can say it's from Lech Poznan!) to bring over to England. Sorry to say though Tottenham fans, Karol Linetty is not Robert Lewandowski.

First, it's important to note how much Lewandowski had already achieved in Polish football at the time of his move to Dortmund. League golden boot award, led his team to the league title and a successful UEFA Cup run behind him, there was little else for him to achieve at Lech, and he left the Ekstraklasa as a star. Despite all this, he still struggled in his first season abroad (as most Polish players do), but luckily found himself playing for Jurgen Klopp who was able to get the best out of him and make him one of the best strikers in Europe. In the case of Karol, he hasn't really proven himself to be the best Polish midfielder, or dominated the Ekstraklasa (a relatively weak league) in the way Lewandowski was able to.

Without a doubt, Linetty is a very talented, and technically skilled central midfielder. At the age of 19, he has already made 42 appearances for the Lech first team, scoring one goal. He was also a part of the Poland U-17 squad that made it to the semi-finals of the 2012 U-17 European Championships. Is he at the level though to move to an English Premier League side and jump in to the starting eleven? Unlikely. As with most young Polish players, he'll go over, play a few cup matches, but likely spend most of his time riding the pine or toiling in the reserves.

It's time for Polish players to stay a season longer, play the whole year, get Lech back in to the Europa League group stage, make a run for the title, and then think about a "dream move to England". As with most young footballers though, money talks, and Lech's ownership aren't the kind who will overlook a quick addition to the budget.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Lech vs. Legia Instant Reaction

Trying to write this I'm at a loss of words, to be honest. I had such high hopes, even dreaming of a Lech 1:0 win last night. Well it only took 11 minutes for that to be extinguished. Legia were winning 3:0 by the 32nd minute, and it's a credit to the Poznań fans that they didn't start heading for the exits at that point.

Lech's defense were cut apart easily in the first half hour, as the absence of the injured Manuel Arboleda was punished by a clinical Legia offense. Marcin Kamiński was completely lost, and alongside him Hubert Wołąkiewicz looked like he wasn't entirely sure what team he was playing for. Lech created a few chances on their end, but Bartosz Ślusarski, who claims to be a striker, wasted chance after chance. The second half calmed down a bit, but Lech never looked like they had the ability to really launch a realistic comeback.

In the end, the scoreline was fair, a very deserved win for the visitors. I just threw up in my mouth typing that. If that isn't the incentive to show the Lech board they must spend in the winter to ensure a team that is competitive for the spring than this season will end in disappointment for Lech fans around the world.

Me, after the first half.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

What They're Saying

As news has reached the Lech Poznan players regarding the high attendance for Sunday’s match against Legia Warsaw, many have spoken to the press about their shock. Here’s what the coach and players are saying in the build up to the game.

Coach Mariusz Rumak: “We will work to thank everyone who is coming to our match. Saying thanks is possible in only one way: doing everything to ensure a good game and win it. This attendance gives us an obligation to represent ourselves at a higher level.

This match will most likely be decided by the small details. In these games against Legia it’s hard to open up, but I’m confident that the fans won’t see a 0:0 draw. We have our options in attack and will try to use them. We’re preparing just like for any other game. If it was any different, it would mean that in past games we didn’t do everything in our power to prepare. However, the match against Legia is our most important.

Legia deserves their points total so far. They are a very difficult and demanding rival. But, had we not dropped points against Pogon Szczecin, today we would be top of the Ekstraklasa.”

Lech have previously only played to a sold out crowd in the Europa League. Here vs. Manchester City

Mateusz Mozdzen: “That’s unbelievable. Over 40,000, really? I’m in shock because that kind of attendance is unheard of. Many players only get to experience this kind of crowd once in their life, and many more never get the chance. This is a really special moment and it’s really great. I kind of feel like an actor, but actors don’t play in front of these kinds of crowds!”

Karol Linetty: “The most people I’ve seen at a game was in Milan. Our prize in a youth tournament sponsored by Coca Cola was a trip to the San Siro to see AC Milan vs. Barcelona. There were about 80,000 people there. In Poznan though I’ve never seen a crowd over 40,000!”

Hungarian summer arrival, Gergo Lovrencsics has said he’s been shocked all season by the crowds he sees in Poland. Something he never experienced while at Lombard Papa. The entire town of Papa could fit in to Lech’s stadium, with room for about 8,000 Poznaniaks as well! “I’ve never played in front of these kinds of crowds. Never and nowhere.”