Tongue tied

wsc302Poland, the Euro 2012 co-hosts are struggling to find a common language in the dressing room, writes Liam Nolan

During the past six months, Poland’s coach Franciszek Smuda has faced a barrage of domestic criticism for trying to lure footballers with Polish ancestry to play for the national team. Five of Smuda’s starting 11 were either born or raised abroad. French born Ludovic Obraniak (Bordeaux) and Damien Perquis (Sochaux) cannot speak Polish, and three German-Poles – Eugen Polanski, Adam Matuszczyk and Sebastian Boenisch – feel much more at ease speaking in German.

Smuda was hired in late 2009 and given the job of reinvigorating a fairly uninspiring side three years before co-hosting Euro 2012. At first, Smuda said he would not select any “faded foxes”, a term he had originally used to describe non-German born players who represent Die Mannschaft, such Miroslav Klose and Karel Podolski, who were both born in Poland.

Smuda, however, then nabbed a couple of Polish-born German citizens. The full-back Sebastian Boenisch (Werder Bremen) and central midfielder Adam Matuszczyk (Fortuna Dusseldorf) were born in Poland but raised in Germany. Polish fans approved of Boenisch and Matuszczyk, as they can speak the language. Bordeaux’s central midfielder Ludovic Obraniak, whose grandfather was Polish, has not learnt polski at a communicative level since gaining his first cap in 2009, much to the chagrin of some of his team-mates.

Last October, Poland and Borussia Dortmund star striker Robert Lewandowski, gave an interview to daily newspaper Polska The Times, in which he criticised Obraniak. “He should not wear the eagle on his chest if he doesn’t understand Polish”, said Lewandowski, who also added that the atmosphere within the national squad was tense.

Last season, Smuda tried in vain to select Manuel Arboleda, a Colombian central defender, who plays his club football with Lech Poznan. Lewandowski and right-back Lukasz Piszczek publicly criticised Smuda for approaching Arboleda. The manager’s plan fizzled out when the Colombian made a very unsporting gesture during a cup tie against Polonia Warszawa last year. He stuck his finger up former Polish striker Euzebiusz Smolarek’s backside while marking him. “Arboleda is no longer part of my plans”, declared Smuda.

That did not stop him from looking abroad for more “faded foxes”. Next up was midfielder Eugen Polanski, who plays for German side FSV Mainz 05. Like Matuszczyk and Boenisch, Polanski was born in Poland but moved to Germany as a toddler. A former Germany Under-21 player, Polanski told the Polish press last year that he was German and had no interest in playing for his birthplace. Six months later, last July, he declared, “I feel Polish and I want to play for Poland” in an interview with sports magazine Przeglad Sportowy. Smuda paid no heed to press critics and angry fans who were furious at Polanski for originally shunning the motherland. The manager capped Polanski last August in a friendly against Georgia and has made him a first team regular.

There was still room for another member of the diaspora in central defence. Smuda drafted in centre-back Damien Perquis, another Frenchman with a Polish grandfather. French coach Laurent Blanc had displayed an interest in selecting Perquis but when that did not materialise, the Sochaux defender declared for Poland. Needless to say, Perquis cannot speak the language. During a November against Hungary in Poznan, elements of the home crowd let rip and booed Polanski and Perquis every time they touched the ball – not great preparation in the run up to hosting a major football tournament.

Things got a bit heated when former national team goalkeeper turned right-wing MP, Jan Tomaszewski, lambasted Perquis for “wearing the Polish eagle, that we, the true Poles wore and won medals for”, clearly referring to his team’s third-place finishes at the 1974 and 1982 World Cups. Tomaszewski’s definition of “true Poles” might be tested further in the months to come. A local football magazine ran a story in January about Enzo Kalinski, an Argentinean midfielder who claimed Polish representatives had approached him to play for the national team. And in February, a Polish-Brazilian Anselmo Vendrechovski Junior, declared his interest to play for his grandparents’ country of birth.

Interestingly, the only “Pole” to have scored a goal for Poland at a European Championship to date was born in Brazil. Roger Guerreiro, a naturalised Polish citizen, netted the country’s only goal at Euro 2008 during a 1-1 draw against Austria. Ardent critics of Franciszek Smuda’s player policy might take note.

From WSC 302 April 2012