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
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?
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."
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.
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
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.
"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."
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
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."
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.
"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
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'.
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