Poland’s big hope: Coach Adam Nawałka

Poland’s big hope: Coach Adam Nawałka Darek Delmanowicz/PAP

As Poland prepares for the World Cup in Russia in 12 days’ time, The First News takes a look at the man who could lead them to victory.

Adam Nawałka played for the national team at the 1978 World Cup and successfully took on the role of  team selector for the Polish squad at the Euro 2016 competition. Now he faces his next major challenge – perhaps fulfilling his work with the Polish team at the World Cup in Russia.

He is the first coach in history to lead the Polish team to the European and the World championships, while at the same time to two other important football events (advancing to the 2006 World Cup and Euro 2008 was the work of two trainers – Paweł Janas and Leo Beenhakker).

Nawałka was a highly promising player whose career was cut short by injury.

Throughout the 1970s his entire league career was spent playing for Wisła Kraków and he was part of the national championship winning team of 1978. At the time, Nawałka was considered one of the greatest talents in Polish football. He was born on October 23, 1957 and played his premier league debut at the age of 17. At the age of almost 21 he played five matches for the starting lineup of the  national team at the World Cup in Argentina.

By 1980 Nawałka had represented his country 34 times and scored one goal, scored during his national team debut against Hungary. Numerous injuries proved too much and his career with the national team came to an end. For a period he played with Polonia teams in the USA and this was where he began his work as a trainer.

Nawałka is a great believer in order and discipline and is known for his demanding stance by those who train under him. He is focused on his duties, extremely hardworking and very demanding of himself and those around him. With Nawałka one can achieve success or… just walk away.

Famed for his tough training sessions with club teams, he has even been known to organise sessions at 6am.

Nawałka officially accepted the role of national team coach on November 1, 2013 and two weeks later Poland played their first match, a friendly again Slovakia in Wrocław. The start was not easy, Poland lost that match 0 : 2, this was followed a few days later with a 0 : 0 draw against the Republic of Ireland in Poznań.

The selection of the team captain resonated widely – in a permanent move,  Nawałka handed the captain’s armband to Robert Lewandowski. The Bayern Munich striker showed his gratitude to the coach by playing brilliantly during the elimination rounds of the 2016 European Championships and during the qualifying rounds for the 2018 World Cup.

Nawałka’s trademark is to play a team formation with two attackers up-front. Luckily, during the elimination rounds of the 2016 European Championships Milik’s talents bloomed, and the enormous potential of Lewandowski was confirmed.

The 2016 European Championships was the first major football event of the 21st century where the Polish team advanced beyond the first group stage. Two 1 : 0 victories (against Northern Ireland and Ukraine) and a 0 : 0 draw against Germany, guaranteed that the ‘white and reds’ advanced from the second position of the group to the second round of the finals. The next match saw Poland eliminate Sweden after a penalty shootout (after 90 minutes and extra-time the score was 1 : 1). Poland was only stopped in the quarter finals match against Portugal. After 120 minutes the score was also 1 : 1, but during the penalty shootout Fernando Santos’ players proved their worth.

Nawałka’s team had proved itself well, the evidence being that he became only the second Polish team coach of the 21st century to retain his position after a major competition. The only other coach to achieve this with the Polish team was Dutch born Leo Beenhakker.

Apart from one disaster during an away game with Denmark, where Poland were beaten 4 : 0, the team have managed to maintain a strong position, topping their group in the elimination rounds for the 2018 World Cup. Confirmation of the team’s direction and of Nawałka’s talent was proved by Poland being positioned fifth in the August 2017 FIFA ranking, the highest position the team has held since the introduction of the ranking system (currently they are placed tenth).

During the draw for the World Cup groups, Poland was drawn from the first basket, which already places the team in a good position to advance. Their opponents in the group – Senegal, Colombia and Japan – have not changed this prognosis.

It’s not out of the question that this will be Nawałka’s final important mission in his role as coach. In reality, no one is saying this out loud, and he himself is concentrating on the World Cup, but the fact remains that his contract comes to an end after the World Cup. Speculation is increasing in the football community, that after his return from Russia, the trainer may be looking for new challenges.