Going forward

Before the World Cup in Russia, Poland was ranked #8 by FIFA international standings and was one of the favorites to advance deep into the tournament. Other teams in Group H were ranked much lower: Columbia #16, Senegal #27, and Japan #61. Poland, however, lost its first two games, and thus effectively ended its participation in the World Cup 2018. 

Zbigniew Boniek, the current head of the Polish Football Association, will likely try to make some changes in an attempt to make the national team more competitive. His most obvious move is to fire the current head coach, Adam Nawałka. But changes that Poland really needs appear to be much more structural than that, and might not be addressed in the coming years. 

First, the focus has to be on the Polish Soccer League. Currently, the league is not strong enough to compete internationally. Until Polish soccer teams are able to be semi-competitive with German, French, or Spanish clubs, the national team will not have enough quality players to fill its roster spots. As it stands, the national team depends on players who play aboard. The gap between them and the players at home is at this point too large to create real competition. Out of 23 players currently composing the national team 7 play in Italy, 5 in England, 4 in Poland, 3 in Germany, and 1 in Belgium, Bulgaria and Russia. If the Polish League can produce around 10 players who are good enough to play for the national team, then our chances of being successful will be much higher. 

Secondly, Poland needs to continue to send more players abroad. This requires both better training and preparation at the ground level, and continued development at later stages of professionalism. Robert Lewandowski showed that it is possible to have a world-class talent grow up in Poland and then blossom into an international superstar abroad. But Poland needs more difference makers, players who can decide that a given match will not be lost.

Even though the changes proposed above are rudimentary, they require long-term planning and structural adjustments that are not easy to make. It appears instead that Poland is bound to repeat its past mistakes. The team will continue to depend on Robert Lewandowski as its primary threat in the years to come. This will be problematic because in two years he will be over 30, and no longer in the prime of his career. We will continue to send players abroad, but they will not be talented enough to make the type of impact that Lewandowski has made in Germany. To be sure, players of his magnitude are born only so often, and the truth is that Poland has wasted a golden opportunity to win international trophies. 

The last two adjustments are informal but equally important. Polish soccer fans need to lower their expectations and accept that getting to the world cup every 12 years might be the best the national team can do. The players, on the other hand, need to find an away to exhibit more mental toughness. If you are going to go down, go down swinging – we did not see that in games against Senegal and Columbia.

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