x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Euro 2012: Poland's 'dyed foxes' ready to defy critics against Greece

One MP has called the team a 'national disgrace' for including foreign-born players, but co-hosts Poland aim to prove him wrong, writes Duncan Castles in Warsaw.

Polish national football team take part in a training session at the National Stadium in Warsaw, on the eve of the Euro 2012 opener against Greece. Christof Stache / AFP
Polish national football team take part in a training session at the National Stadium in Warsaw, on the eve of the Euro 2012 opener against Greece. Christof Stache / AFP

WARSAW // That goalkeeper - the one who gloriously defied England to take Poland to a World Cup where they proceeded to finish third - is not impressed with the team of 2012.

Jan Tomaszewski's problem is not so much with their football, as the personnel. "A national disgrace," is how the hero of 1974 describes the current squad. "I don't watch rubbish."

Tomaszewski, a well-known commentator on domestic football who recently converted popular appeal into a parliamentary seat, is not merely refusing to observe Poland co-host this European Championship, he has vowed to support Germany instead.

Deeply unpopular with his compatriots the Germans may be, but at least they possess a couple of proper Polish footballers.

"I will support the best," Tomaszewski said. "I think Miroslav Klose and Lukas Podolski are the biggest football brains. Klose's father scored against me quite a few times. Podolski impressed me with his conduct. One of the best footballers in the world proudly declares that he's a Pole. He scored against Poland, but never showed his joy.

"I will not be cheering for Poland, this is not my team. It's insulting to call up Germans and Frenchmen to the national team. It would be better to pick guys from Polish clubs. In a championship on home soil they would be prepared to die on the pitch. How can you support a team which contains foreigners and corrupters?"

His unimpressed parliamentary party, the right-wing Law and Justice group, suspended Tomaszewski for the month of the tournament. The issue of the "dyed foxes", as the France-born Damien Perquis and Ludovic Obraniak plus the Germany-raised Sebastian Boenisch, Eugen Polanski and Adam Matuszczyk have been labelled, though is more than a political sideshow.

The first four all played at Under 21 level for the countries they were raised in. Their introduction into Franciszek Smuda's young squad have provoked moments of internal dissent.

Polish is a notoriously complex language and newcomers have struggled with communication.

Robert Lewandowski, the team's leading light, has criticised an apparent unwillingness to learn to converse; Wojciech Szczesny, the latest in a long line of outstanding keepers, vowed to direct Poland's defence solely in his home tongue.

The coach who gathered them together (calling at one point on Poland's president to waive some issues with an application for citizenship by Perquis) had to deploy his substantial personality and reputation to do so. Smuda is known as an astute team builder and vibrant motivator.

His coaching career began in Germany's lower divisions in the early 80s, progressing through Turkey, to his home country. By the mid-90s, Smuda was in charge of Widzew Lodz whom he led to back-to-back League titles and the 1996/97 Champions League - the last Polish side to reach Europe's premier club competition. In 1999 he won the Polish championship again with Wisla Krakow.

Though subsequent spells at Legia Warsaw, Lech Poznan and Zaglebie Lubin failed to earn him further Ekstraklasa at each of the three clubs Smuda was credited with constructing teams that won the Polish title a season after his departure. Sixty-four on the day Poland hope to be through the quarter-finals, he discusses his eye for talent with an appealing sense of humour.

He likes to talk about "Smuda's Stairs", arguing that he can assess an individual's quality as a footballer merely by observing the way he climbs a flight of steps. "I only need to see the silhouette of his body as he walks upstairs," Smuda says. Statistical analysis is dismissed with his own application of modern technology. "A computer? I use it to put my mug of tea on."

Yet there is a flexibility to Smuda's methods and a willingness to reconsider initial judgements that explain his longevity in the game. As a club coach he eschewed Polish's football's adherence to 4-4-2, importing a diamond midfield and 4-3-3 formations. With the national side, he emphasises possession-based attacking play with two wingers, and the talents of an aggressive right-back and his mobile centre forward.

Lewandowski, the poster boy of Polish football fresh off a 30-goal double winning campaign with Borussia Dortmund, is one of the players Smuda reversed a decision on. Scouting the striker in a lower-tier fixture the coach quickly turned on Lewandoski's backer, moaning: "You owe me petrol money. If I wanted to see trees I would have gone to the forest instead." By the summer, Smuda has signed him for Lech, setting the forward off on a cascade of spectacular finishes.

Smuda's disciplinary decisions are a different matter. In October 2010, a year after his appointment as coach, Artur Boruc and Michal Zelakow flouted a comprehensive alcohol ban on a flight back from national team duty. Boruc, Poland's goalkeeper at the 2006 World Cup and 2008 Euros, was never called again, conveniently making room for the promotion of the new Arsenal No 1 Szczesny.

Demonstrating the importance of principle, Zelakow, an intelligent captain and versatile defender, went too. That was reinforced this April when Smuda deprived himself of the Cologne winger Slawomoir Peszko after a drunken dispute with a German taxi driver.

With Lewandowski among those vocally sympathetic to what was perceived as the product of anti-Polish prejudice, Smuda visited Germany to quiz local police over the incident yet ultimately excluded Peszko from the Euros.

Poland retain what Jurgen Klopp refers to as the "Polonia Dortmund" core of a side that overpowered Bayern Munich in winning this year's German league and cup.

Smuda's new captain is Jakub Blaszczykowski, a winger who combines fruitfully with converted right-back Lukasz Piszczek to feed Lewandowski. At least one of the trio were involved in 53 of Dortmund's 80 Bundesliga goals. Admired by Real Madrid and Chelsea, Piszczek may have left Dortmund by the time the Euros are over.

A draw that graciously provided Poland Friday's opening fixture against Greece, followed by meetings with the Russia and the Czech Republic, offers the promise of progress.

In the quarter-finals, the Poles fancy taking a tilt at Germany. And a chance to properly put Tomaszewski to his word.

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