13 July ~ As Piotr Świerczewski's through-ball cut open a square Norwegian defence, Marek Koźmiński burst from deep to gather the pass. Advancing into the penalty area, the experienced midfielder squared the ball neatly into the path of Emmanuel Olisadebe, who, with only Thomas Myhre to beat from six yards, simply couldn't miss. As the net rippled, the crowd in Chorzów was sent into delirium; with only 15 minutes remaining, the goal meant a 2-0 lead for Poland, safe in the knowledge that a victory would ensure their spot at the 2002 World Cup in Japan and South Korea.
Olisadebe had been that predatory penalty-box figure in an otherwise workmanlike side throughout the qualifying campaign. His goalscoring instincts had been what had driven the team's coach, Jerzy Engel, to work so tirelessly to have the Nigerian-born striker's Polish citizenship papers fast-tracked. Olisadebe's paperwork was ready in time for him to strike eight times in ten matches during qualifying to help Poland to their first World Cup appearance since 1986, with "Oli" even receiving a vote in the ballot for 2001 FIFA World Player of the Year award. "For me, Olisadebe is 90 per cent of the Polish team," said the former national team goalkeeper turned newspaper columnist, Jan Tomaszewski. "If he plays, Poland will score – if he doesn't, then they won't."
The "Black Pole" became a symbol of the team's achievement, but he undoubtedly divided opinion in the process. His time at Polonia Warsaw in the Ekstraklasa had been littered with racist attacks, with the languid striker only really gaining broad acceptance following a series of vital goals for Engel's national side. His case sparked diverse media interest, which even included a feature-length docu-film entitled Biało-czerwono-czarny, czyli Olisadebe (Red-white-black, or Olisadebe).
Several years on and Olisadebe is a 32-year-old journeyman who's failed to maintain the high standards set during the start of the last decade. At the end of 2010 he was released by Chinese Super League side Henan Construction, having previously spent time in Greece, Cyprus and England. A combination of inconsistent form and consistent injuries has meant no international caps since 2004. At the end of June, however, Olisadebe returned to his adopted homeland for a trial with Lechia Gdańsk on the Baltic coast. "Physically, I feel pretty good," he claimed after labouring through a debut trial match. "I realise that many fans expect of me, but they must remember that I am only beginning to return to the top level."
Questions were quickly being asked of why the club were interested in a player who had not played a competitive match since last November. The durability of his injury-prone knees was queried, while an agent claimed that the player's passport was falsified, making him five or six years younger than he actually was. "It's the continuous pursuit of sensation," insisted Olisadebe of the negative attention. "These days, in the 21st century, you have to deal with it. I will not commit suicide. People can say whatever they want."
Within just a few days, though, a group of Lechia fans had approached the club's main investor, Andrzej Kuchar. They insisted that he forget about the big-name trialist and instead invest the money in subsidising youth tickets for the club's matches at their giant new PGE Arena home. Olisadebe would write newspaper headlines, they claimed, but not win them matches. On Sunday, the club announced that the striker would not be joining them. Even if his claim that he "didn't expect fans to remember me" was a modest media line, it was probably the fact that people hadn't forgotten who he was that proved to be his biggest obstacle. Marcus Haydon