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

Comments (7)
Comment by Magik 2011-07-13 11:46:07

good piece and what a surprising subject! never made it to the friendly game in which Oli was trialed but from what my mates told me he was truly pants. it will be interesting to see what happens to Oilsadebe next. apparently he's got something lined up.

Comment by Antepli Ejderha 2011-07-13 12:44:35

Thought you'd written this Magik.

Two games for Portsmout, does that really count as a spell in England?

Nice read though.

Comment by Magik 2011-07-13 13:55:23


no mate. my name's much more polish.

Comment by Peter_Bateman 2011-07-13 16:43:38

At least Oli managed to acquire a smattering of Polish unlike Roger Guerrero who somehow acquired citizenship without even being able to utter Dzien Dobry coherently. I have nothing against people moving to other countries to improve their lives, settling there and taking out citizenship but neither Olisadebe or Roger had any interest in or long term commitment to Poland and the Polish FA weren't bothered either in view of the paucity of talent available to the national team. The grants of citizenship to both were a farce since Polish law normally requires five years's residence and proof of competence in the language. Cynicism and opportunism on both sides.

Comment by The Awesome Berbaslug!!! 2011-07-13 17:29:19

Mick mcCarthy voted Rui Costa, juan sebastian veron, and emmanuel Olisadebe to be the world player of the year in 2001.

He was on a roll back then was manager mick

Comment by Magik 2011-07-13 18:42:34

What that man said...and it's happening all over again with Boenisch, Obraniak, Perquis (who dont speak the language well but had polish ancestors it must be said) and most controversially Arboleda all over again. At least the latter can say: uwajaj, uwajaj! properly.

Comment by Dalef65 2011-07-14 17:42:40

I remember him from the 2002 WC,and I did wonder what happened to him after that.
Never knew he kicked a ball in the UK though.......

Portsmouth seem to specialise in employing African born players who are older than their stated age,dont they.....

Related articles

Poland swap Lewandowski threat for defensive prowess
Qualifying’s top scorers are yet to conceded a goal in Euro 2016 proper Embed from Getty Images 24 June ~ I have just got back from France where,...
Northern Ireland need more positivity against Ukraine
Good but defensive defeat to Poland leaves Michael O’Neill’s team requiring a win Embed from Getty Images 13 June ~ Northern Ireland’s opening...
Photos of football from Polish villages
10 May ~ Photographer Przemek Niciejewski has been photographing football around Europe for many years, from the biggest matches to non-League....