Poland manager quits after poor World Cup performance

Arguably the most successful national football team manager since the 1980s, Adam Nawałka steps down after five years at the helm. Piotr Nowak

Arguably the most successful national football team manager since the 1980s, Adam Nawałka steps down after five years following the decision to not prolong his contract.

A dismal World Cup is enough to cost most managers their jobs and so it proved with Adam Nawałka who resigned on Monday after a five-year stint in which the Polish men’s football team enjoyed more success than at any point over the past 30 years.

Nawałka won 27 of the 50 matches in which he led the team while drawing 13 and losing just ten. The team under Nawałka scored 99 goals and conceded 49. More importantly still, Nawałka led his men to a quarterfinal in the European Cup of 2016.

Nawałka took over the team in 2013 after it failed to win a place in the World Cup in Brazil, edged out not only by England and Ukraine but also the minuscule nation of Montenegro which boasts water polo as its national sport.

But while Poland’s record at the time was poor, the talent pipeline was looking promising with one bright star in particular: it was the season that the then 24-year-old Robert Lewandowski led Borussia Dortmund to the German league title and claimed the top scorer’s crown for himself. 

Lewandowski soon transferred to Bayern Munich where he cemented his reputation as arguably the world’s best out-and-out striker. Though he failed to translate that form to the European Cup, in which he scored not a single goal, Nawałka’s team performed credibly thanks to defensive discipline and just enough counterattacking prowess to eke out two 1:0 victories in the group stages. 

Poland also held Germany to a goalless draw and eliminated Switzerland on penalties before going out in extra time to Cristiano Ronaldo’s Portugal who went on to win the tournament.

Perhaps the most satisfying moment of Nawałka’s term with the national team came on 11 October 2014 when Poland recorded its first ever victory over Germany. The convincing 2:0 win came in Warsaw in the opening match of the European Cup qualifiers.

It was perhaps this record that led Zbigniew Boniek, a once famous Juventus Turin striker and now the head of the national Football Association, to say that he asked Nawałka to stay on after the World Cup – though one of the manager’s friends went on the record as saying that this was mere face-saving courtesy and he had been pushed out.

Whatever the case, the team’s performance in Russia was feeble with a 2:1 loss to Senegal followed by a 3:0 drabbing at the hands of Colombia and a 1:0 win in a dead rubber against Japan.

Lewandowski, who had top scored in the qualifying stages with a whopping 16 goals, once again failed to score in a major tournament while defensive integrity Nawałka had made his trademark evaporated under pressure.

In Nawałka’s defence, Poland’s top defender Kamil Glik went out to an injury in the run-up to the World Cup and most of the team’s leading players had missed much of the preceding club season due to injury or poor form. In any case, he had probably enjoyed a more successful run than most fans had expected based on his previous track record.

An international level player who participated in the 1978 World Cup, Nawałka had spent the 2000s managing a series of Polish league teams with a measure of unspectacular success (his national championship with Wisła Kraków came in the middle of the club’s dominant run in the league) though he also had a brief stint as assistant to Leo Beenhakker, a Dutchman who was the first foreigner ever to manage Poland.

His replacement is expected to be named on 23 or 24 July, the Polish FA president said in a tweet.