herald

Monday 23 October 2017

Ex-Celtic star Dariusz Dziekanowski: 'Lewandowski is class but Poland are not a one-man team'

FOR the first time in a generation, Poland have a player who is truly world class.

But despite the importance of Robert Lewandowski to the Polish side, Poland's inheritor of greatness from Zbigniew Boniek, former international Dariusz Dziekanowski believes that Poland are not just a one-man team.

"We have a great leader in Lewandowski but we don't rely on him and you can't say that we are a one-man team," says Dziekanowski, a former Polish international striker who is still remembered around these parts for his spell at Celtic (1989-92).

"He is important to us but he's not the only one. He is a great leader to have in the squad, we have a lot of young players in the panel and for them to have a man like Lewandowski, who plays at the highest level possible, to guide them is great for us.

"He has made a great career for himself and the exciting thing about Lewandowski is that he's still young and has a lot more to achieve, he's only 25 and he has made huge progress in the last few years, he has even developed since he went to Bayern Munich.

"He has also really progressed with the national team and has been very good in the last few matches, he didn't score but still played well and he deserves to be the No. 1.

"I know that in Ireland, a lot of the talk has been about Lewandowski but we have others. Kamil Glik is one of our top defenders and has done really well in Italy with Torino. Grzegorz Krychowiak is an excellent player, he's done very well for Sevilla in Spain, and our goalkeepers are all excellent, they are top quality," Dziekanowski told The Herald.

A scan through the Polish media in the last few days shows a scant record for Ireland and Irish football. Every comment from a player in their camp has used the word "battle" or "fight" at least once, but not a single Irish player has been mentioned by name, apart from the Everton duo of Seamus Coleman and Aiden McGeady.

In the past, players like Keane, Finnan, Duff, Brady and O'Leary would have been well known over there but the current crop of players from Wigan, Millwall and Sheffield Wednesday do not, shall we say, roll off the tongue in Warsaw. "Now, Irish players aren't well known as they are not at the big clubs, like Man U and Liverpool, any more," says Dziekanowski.

RESPECT

"I don't think you have any real stars in the Irish squad but you still have good players, they still play in the Premier League, most of them, and people in Poland do watch the Premier League.

"We do respect them as we know how hard it is for a Polish player to do well in the Premier League, so even though clubs like Stoke and Hull are not famous, I still have respect for the Irish players there.

"But I feel we have a good chance to qualify, and to me a 0-0 draw would be an ok result for us."

The former striker, who was on the national team coaching staff when they qualified for Euro 2008 but is now working in the media, senses a good mood in the national team these days. "We are confident as we've had a good start in the campaign, especially the win in Germany," he says,

"We were a bit disappointed with the draw against Scotland, having beaten Germany we felt we could beat the Scots.

"We have some problems with players who are injured, especially in defence with Piszczek missing, but that just opens the door for other players to come into the team and make a name for themselves."

His name is not the easiest to pronounce and most Celtic fans still recall him simnpy as 'Jackie' but Dziekanowski is familiar to many fans in this country from his spells in British club football, mainly his time with Celtic (1989-92) where his feat of scoring four goals in a European tie, against Partizan Belgrade, is still remembered.

He has fond memories of Ireland and played against Jack Charlton's Irish side twice: in Warsaw in 1986 and in Dublin in 1988, a game that left a mark on the player as he was spotted later on wearing the Irish shirt which he swapped after that game in '88 (see picture). "I like to keep my old shirts, and I think I still have that Irish jersey somewhere," he smiles.

Dziekanowski played for the national team from 1981-90, at a stage in their history when it was impossible for fans to travel to away games, outside of the communist bloc. On Sunday, Poland could have anything 15,000 fans - or more - cheering the team on.

"That can help the team, but I think there will be a good atmosphere at the game," he says. "I saw how the Irish fans behaved in Poland in 2012, I played in Ireland and I met lots of Irish people when I played for Celtic so I would expect a good atmosphere. But certainly, it will be an advantage to us to have so many fans in Dublin."

'jackie' dziekanowski interview

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