After the Polish public stopped believing scare stories about the relocation of Euro 2012 to Germany, Italy or France because of a lack of progress in our infrastructure, a blow came from an unexpected angle. All of a sudden we realised we don't have a team that will be able to compete in the Euros.
The appointment of Franciszek Smuda as national coach in October 2009 received almost universal support from the fans. Smuda had a good record with club sides and led the last Polish club side, Widzew Lodz, to get to the Champions League group stages back in 1996.
Whoever the opponents, Smuda insists on playing an "open game" with three forwards. Before a friendly against Spain in June he said he would stick with this formation even if "it meant losing by six or nine goals". Everyone thought the Spanish would take it easy, having a long flight to South Africa scheduled for the next day. But Poland were soon on the ropes after conceding two ludicrous goals in the first 15 minutes. The game ended 6-0 but it could easily have been double figures. One of the best young Polish prospects, Artur Sobiech, was then seen chasing Spanish players after the final whistle to swap shirts.
The idea was to play against stronger sides so our players can learn from them, but when Poland failed to beat Ukraine and Australia on home soil in September confidence hit an all-time low. The 2-1 defeat to the Australians also provided a telling symbol as it was played on what amounted to a building site in Krakow where only two stands had been finished.
With no competitive games left we will now play endless friendlies against our tournament co-hosts, Ukraine. They might even let us win a game or two to raise spirits, but they weren't feeling generous in the first of the series in Lodz in September. The fact that the Ukrainians had a plane scheduled back to Kiev 90 minutes after the final whistle, meaning they were unable to have a shower afterwards, did not help us as the visitors equalised in injury time.
At least that match ended our goalscoring drought that had lasted over 400 minutes. But we have now gone eight games without a win, while the atmosphere surrounding league football has never been as bad. Over 300 people have been charged in a corruption scandal that has never been fully explained while some clubs have been relegated or had points docked. The Polish FA president Grzegorz Lato, one of Poland's star players of the 1970s and early 1980s, is not directly involved but has come to symbolise the football authorities' incompetence, with TV rights sold under the table, venues for national team games changed at the last minute and Poland supporters overcharged for official trips to away games.
Most clubs ended their latest European campaigns in July, with league runners-up Wisla Krakow eliminated by Qarabaq Agdam of Azerbaijan after losing both legs. On the plus side, Lech Poznan reached the group stages of the Europa League after beating the then Ukrainian league leaders, Dniepr. Before that, though, a very mediocre Sparta Prague side beat Lech twice easily in Champions League qualification. Then, in their first Europa League encounter, Lech drew 3-3 away to Juventus. But all three goals came from Latvian Artjoms Rudnevs and there were only four Poles in Lech's starting line-up.
Desperate efforts are now being made to recruit anyone with a Polish sounding name for the national team. Laurent Koscielny of Arsenal turned down Smuda but Sebastian Boenisch of Werder Bremen was persuaded to play. He was the best player on the pitch during the defeat to Australia but hardly a world beater. With the exception of Auxerre's Ireneusz Jelen, the Polish players based abroad are not doing well. Several, such as Maciej Zurawski and Ebi Smolarek, are now coming back. Robert Warzycha of Everton was one of only 13 foreign players to play on the inaugural weekend of the Premier League and he is still the most recent Polish player to have scored there, in 1994.
We have to "be patient", Smuda tells us. But, with the team having just dropped to its lowest ever place in the FIFA rankings (69th), there are already calls for him to be fired from what seemed to be the safest coaching job in the world.
From WSC 286 December 2010