On the international stage, Poland will not be happy with the current state of their football team. The team failed to qualify for the recent World Cup in South Africa, finishing only above San Marino in their qualifying group and lost their most recent friendly, albeit to World Champions Spain, 6-0.
Perhaps the fact that Poland are co-hosts of the 2012 European Championship and thus don’t have to qualify is a good thing and will allow the squad to make a new start. The first place to look for fresh talent to rejuvenate the national squad is Poland’s top league the Ekstraklasa which commences once again on Friday. Here I will preview the season with predictions for all 16 teams.
1st Place: Wisla Krakow
Wisla finished second last season only three points of the pace of champions Lech. Although they have lost Brazilian defender Marcelo to PSV Eindhoven, manager Henryk Kasperczak is looking to replace him with Honduran centre back Osman Chavez whilst the midfield has been strengthened with new signings Cezary Wilk and Dragan Paljić. Up front, Wisla retain the deadly strike partnership of Paweł Brożek and Patryk Małecki who between them amassed 18 goals and 16 assists in the 2009/10 Ekstraklasa. All this should be enough to see them leapfrog Lech this time round and get that place in the Champions League.
2nd Place: Lech Poznan
As top goalscorer with 18 last campaign it was little surprise to anyone that Lech eventually accepted a €4.5m offer for the player from German club Borussia Dortmund. The Poznan side have tried to replace the striker with Joël Tshibamba and Artur Wichniarek but it is unlikely they will fill the shoes of the Polish superstar. Nevertheless Lech are not a one man team and with a strong team including Sławomir Peszko and Manuel Arboleda they should still have enough to pull away from the rest of the pack alongside Wisla, as they did last season.
3rd Place: GKS Bełchatów
GKS had a good run in at the end of last season finishing 5th overall and manager Maciej Bartoszek has made a number of improvements to the squad in the summer. Most famous is Marcin Żewłakow, former Poland international but he will have competition for a place up front with young goalscorers David Nowak and Grzegorz Kuświk. Overall the only club in the Ekstraklasa from the Łódź Voivodeship region could once again be in the frame for a European place.
4th Place: Legia Warsaw
Despite being a well-established club in the Ekstraklasa by now with nine league championships, Legia come into this term as something of an unknown outfit. As a result of their new stadium they have not been able to spend any money in the last three transfer windows until now. On top of this the club has brought in a new manager in the form of Maciej Skorża. There is no doubt that he has brought in some quality players with the new funds, notably Ivica Vrdoljak from Dinamo Zagreb and former Benfica player Manú, and the future looks bright for the club but this will all come in good time. This season though I can’t see any improvement for the club from the capital.
5th Place: Polonia Warsaw
A controversial prediction considering the other club from the capital finished only six points from relegation last season but this can be put down to constant managerial changes and it must be remembered that it was only in July 2008 that the merger with Dyskobolia Grodzisk Wielkopolski occurred. Now though Polonia have found a good manager in former Barcelona captain José María Bakero who saved the club from relegation last term and have made some big signings such as Ebi Smolarek, Artur Sobiech and Patryk Rachwał. All this points towards a good season for Polonia which will see them putting pressure on both GKS and Legia for a place in Europe.
6th Place: Ruch Chorzów
Despite a recent ranking of clubs across Europe which put Ruch top of the Polish clubs and 223rd overall it is hard to see the team maintaining the form which saw it take 3rd place in last year’s Ekstraklasa. The team had a bad run in and has lost key players over the summer. The most important player sold on though is young Artur Sobiech who racked up 10 goals last season. With veteran Andrzej Niedzielan also gone it is hard to see Ruch scoring many goals this season or really competing with the teams above
7th Place: Jagiellonia Białystok
The emergence of a corruption scandal meant the club started last season on -10 points but still managed to finish 11th and won the Polish Cup. The club have not been big spenders during this transfer window as a new stadium is on the way but it will be interesting to see their new young winger, Tomasz Kupisz, in action.
8th Place: Polonia Bytom
Polonia’s third season back in the Ekstraklasa after a long exodus ought to see another mid-table finish. Young Michal Misiewicz is an interesting addition to the squad but the loss of Tomasz Nowak and the end of the loan of keeper Wojciech Skaba could cause some problems.
9th Place: Korona Kielce
Korona will have been delighted with their first season back in the Ekstraklasa after relegation because of a corruption scandal. The team finished 6th and have thus attracted a lot of attention in the transfer market. The loss of the likes of Artur Jędrzejczyk, Jacek Kiełb and Cezary Wilk may prove problematic but manager Marcin Sasal has also been busy buying players such as Maciej Korzym amongst others.
10th Place: Lechia Gdańsk
Lechia go into this campaign with a much reduced squad and may struggle if hit by injuries at any point. Besides this though they retain pretty much the same starting XI which has proven itself hard to beat.
11th Place: Cracovia
The team from Kraków did well to avoid relegation last season and this time round manager Rafał Ulatowski has tried to make some genuine improvements to his squad including two players from Dutch side NEC Nijmegen; Arek Radomski and Saidi Ntibazonkiza. Despite this the changes are certainly not enough to push the side into the top half of the table.
12th Place: Zagłębie Lubin
Cracovia are not the only side to be buying from Dutch clubs as Zagłębie have taken on defender Csaba Horváth from ADO Den Haag. The loss of star striker, Iliyan Mitsanski will though surely hurt the side this season. His impeccable record of 40 goals in 58 games makes him almost impossible to replace and could mean Zagłębie are hanging uncomfortably around the bottom half of the table.
13th Place: Śląsk Wrocław
Now Śląsk finished 9th last time round but their inactivity in the transfer market is a source for concern. One of their strong young defenders, Tadeusz Socha, has gone to GKS and his replacement, 34 year old Cristain Diaz, is simply not good enough to replace him at the back.
14th Place: Widzew Łódź
After their outstanding performance in the first league last season that saw them promoted I certainly think Widzew have got what it takes to stay in the Ekstraklasa this season and if they get a good run together could potentially push higher than my predicted 14th. However there is a vast gap in quality between the top and lower tiers and manager Andrzej Kretek’s lack of investment in players of Ekstraklasa quality could be a problem.
15th Place: Górnik Zabrze
It’s hard to separate the two sides that I think will go down but new promoted Górnik Zabrze have the edge over Arka. To be fair they are a side who have done a lot in the transfer window and could spring a surprise or two but it’s unlikely. New youngsters in the squad such as Daniel Sikorski from Bayern Munich could prove exciting to watch but won’t be effective against the strength of other teams in the league.
16th Place: Arka Gdynia
Lucky to survive the drop last season but most probably will not this time round. The loss of young front man Joël Tshibamba to Lech could also prove fatal to any chance the side has of scoring goals.