Despite redeeming himself somewhat with a 5-0 World Cup qualifying stroll against perennial whipping-boys San Marino, Polish manager Waldemar Fornalik’s future looks very bleak. It would seem that even an unlikely qualification for the 2014 finals in Brazil may not save him from joining the football managers’ unemployment queue.
The fact is that the 1-3 home defeat to neighbours Ukraine has left the Reprezentacja with a mountain to climb and quite frankly not many believe this team are good enough to do it. And that includes Polish Football Association boss Zbigniew Boniek, who has not bothered to hide the fact that a successor is already being looked at.
There was a sense of deja-vu among those football fans as the national team once again turned expectations on their head by losing what was believed to be a winnable important game at home. And like in Euro 2012 it was an Eastern European neighbour who threw a spanner in the their works, although unlike the 1-0 defeat by the Czech Republic last July, Ukraine’s 3-1 upset in Warsaw is not the final nail in the coffin of Poland’s aspirations. Thanks to Montenegro and England sharing the spoils in Podgorica, Poland still have a chance of qualifying for Brazil. But that means getting results against all of their three strongest opponents, two of them away from home in Ukraine and England.
Fornalik’s competence as a manager at this level was always questioned from the beginning due mainly to his lack of success and experience. Those factors can undoubtedly count against a coach in any national football team where players like to feel that the man in charge has the CV to prove that he knows what he is talking about – and doing it.
And it was the latter, involving several strange changes in midfield against Ukraine, which might probably have contributed towards the shaky start which saw Poland concede two early goals, before they had time to find their feet.
Firstly the unexpected return of Radoslaw Majeswki, who has not worn the white eagle on his breast since October 2010, could not have helped the already unsettled midfield to find a rhythm. It appeared as though Fornalik performed a sort of knee-jerk reaction in bringing back the Nottingham Forest man simply on the strength of his recent hat-trick in the English Championship. This was at the expense of Ludovic Obraniak who has been enjoying a good season in France with Bordeux and therefore playing at a higher level than Majewski. But more importantly he has also been a regular member of the Reprezentacja and no more to blame for their poor form than any other player. In fact with his powerful shot and penchant to go up into attack he acts as the perfect much-needed support for lone striker Robert Lewandowski.
Where once again coach Fornalik has followed in his predecessor’s footspeps is by over-relying on the Borussia Dortmund goal-poacher, forgetting that in the Bundesliga Lewandowski regularly has at least two attackers to take the pressure off him. He also plays deeper and is as much a supplier of assists as he is goalscorer.
If Obraniak has one fault – according to his critics – it is that he does not speak Polish, having been raised in France. But as one put it "he’s there to play football not recite Mickiewicz" (Poland’s national poet).
The other strange choice was the equally unexpected return of Maciej Rybus who has been enjoying an unspectacular season in Russia with mid-table Terek Grozny, where he rarely lasts a whole game before being substituted. Again it is a bit baffling why Fornalik should suddenly decide to resurrect this midfielder after an absence of nine games.
There was much talk in the Polish media about there being a bad atmosphere and even suggestions that Fornalik has "lost the dressing room". He certainly has not done much to change his many critics’ opinion that he was never the right man for the job in the first place.
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