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Breaking Boniek's curse

Everything he has touched in Polish football has turned to gold so far - now 46-year-old Zbigniew 'Zibi' Boniek, perhaps the greatest player in Polish history, has taken on the role of coaching the national side. By uefa.com's Maciej Iwanski.

Faultless reputation
Having spent much of the past decade a long way from the pitch, brokering television deals and helping out the Polish Football Federation (PZPN) with his business expertise, many were surprised to see Boniek return to coaching. After all, with such a faultless reputation as a player behind him and 24 goals in 80 games for Poland, why take the risk?

'Taking risks'
Clearly that thought never crossed Boniek's mind. "I am not afraid to take risks, in fact - I like to," he told uefa.com. "For the last two years I have been very close to the national team, keeping an eye on the logistical side of team affairs. I have had enough of it. It is time to start something new."

Juventus calls
It is not the first big risk Boniek has taken. Born in Bydgoszcz on 3 March 1956, he started his career with Zawisza Bydgoszcz before moving on to Widzew Lódz in 1975. Seven years later, his exceptional performances as Poland took the bronze medal at the 1982 FIFA World Cup earned him a $1.8m move to Serie A giants Juventus FC.

European glory
With the European transfer market still in its infancy, it looked like a huge fee for the dynamic striker, but he made the step up to top-class European football superbly. Juventus won the UEFA European Cup Winners' Cup and UEFA Super Cup in 1984, and added the UEFA European Champion Clubs' Cup to their tally in 1985.

'Bello di Notte'
The final of that game, a 1-0 win against Liverpool FC in Brussels, was the end of a superb campaign for Boniek who earned the affectionate nickname 'Bello di Notte' because he was in such exceptional form throughout the campaign of evening fixtures.

Coaching disappointment
He moved on to AS Roma shortly afterwards, where he ended his playing career in 1988. He took on coaching roles with US Lecce and AS Bari but both sides were relegated from Serie A under his command. He also coached S.S.Sambenedettese and redeemed himself to a degree when he took Avellino Calcio from Serie C to Serie B in 1995 but resigned soon afterwards.

'A normal situation'
However, the disappointment of those experiences has not left him with any doubts over his abilities. "Two of my clubs were relegated, one of them promoted," he said. "That is a normal situation. Every year four teams are relegated form Serie A and it just happens.

Getting Lippi
"Let me tell you a story," he added with a smile. "AS Bari, coached by me, had just won a match against AC Cesena. Next day Cesena's president fired his coach. His name was Marcello Lippi."

Financial acumen
Having applied for Italian citizenship, Boniek stayed in Rome working as a television pundit and running his own business.
Boniek pondered a move to become PZPN president, before agreeing a deal with current PZPN president Michal Listkiewicz in 1999 which saw him return to Poland as the federation's vice-president in charge of marketing.

Back to Poland
His business acumen continued to see miracles performed, and thanks to another cannily negotiated deal, many Ekstraklasa clubs were saved from financial extinction by a television deal between Canal Plus and the PZPN through Boniek's company Go&Goal. A new sponsorship deal saw the current Poland side headed for the 2002 FIFA World Cup finals in an exceptionally good state.

World Cup woe
It was a surprise then that Jerzy Engel's side fared so badly in Korea/Japan, and were eliminated at the end of the group stages. Boniek, however, is not particularly interested in conducting a postmortem on his predecessor's ill-starred campaign.

'Like a car with the handbrake on'
"Take a look at the French national team," he said. "They failed to score and went back home with one point - at least we won the match against the United States. We were not prepared enough for the first two matches. I would say we were like a car with handbrake on."

Expensive tastes
The responsibility for releasing that handbrake is now Boniek's, and he is determined to do the job his own way. "I intend to be an expensive coach for the PZPN," he said. "Not because of my salary - it is lower than the former coach's - but because I want to travel a lot and see all the Polish players I may be interested in.

International targets
"Our strength lies in our players being on top form and learning from recent experience," he added. "We also have a lot of talented young players and they will grow up. I hope we will reach the targets we have set ourselves. The first one is of course qualifying for the [UEFA] European Championships."

'Boniek's curse'
After that, of course, come the 2006 World Cup finals. When Poland were eliminated in the finals of the 1986 tournament, Boniek spoke on television to answer complaints by disappointed Polish fans. "I do not think we will reach another World Cup finals in 20 years," he said in a phrase now famous in Poland as 'Boniek's curse'.

Destiny calling
Of course, he was nearly right, but in a strange twist of fate, it may now fall to him to break that run of disappointments. To the superstitious it might look like his destiny, but Boniek is keen to remind uefa.com that it was luck as much as anything that saw him take charge of Poland on 15 July.

'It was an accident'
"I did not plan to take the job as national team coach," he said. "It was an accident - the offer just fell from heaven. But I am happy about it and now I hope we will go out and realise our goals."

The final challenge
So, having saved the Ekstraklasa clubs and the PZPN from financial apocalypse, is it now Boniek's turn to save Polish football itself? "I don't feel like that," he told uefa.com. "I have created part of Polish football history. My name is well known and I know I have done a lot of good in the past. I hope I can do so now as national team coach."

This article is entitled from "Breaking Boniek's curse", taken from UEFA Magazine.