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Smuda bids to prove critics wrong at Euro
Published : 14 May 2012 02:17:01
Gruff Poland manager Franciszek Smuda has battled to convince his critics since taking charge of the Euro 2012 co-hosts almost three years ago.
The 63-year-old has faced the task of building a squad that can cut it with the best when the high-profile tournament gets under way in Poland and Ukraine next month.
An added burden has been that with an automatic berth at Euro 2012, and having failed to qualify for the 2010 World Cup, Poland will have gone 968 days without a competitive match by the time they kick off on June 8 in Warsaw.
Smuda took over in October 2009 after the sacking of Dutchman Leo Beenhakker, Poland's first-ever foreign manager, who was in charge of Holland at the 1990 World Cup and coached Feyenoord, Ajax and Real Madrid.
Smuda, whose own management record is far from high-profile, has had to rely on friendlies to fine-tune his team.
They started badly, losing 1-0 to Romania in Warsaw, with other notable defeats including a 6-0 drubbing away to Spain.
Attacks on Smuda's tactics mounted in the media, on the terraces and even, reportedly, in the dressing room.
But his squad began to gel, with the team starting to learn what it is like to win last year -- but not enough to convince Smuda's staunchest opponents.
In September, Poland almost pulled off a major upset at home against Germany, whom they have never beaten, before the visitors forced a 2-2 draw in the final moments.
Smuda has shaken up the Beenhakker-era side, introducing half of his initial 26-man Euro squad with the average age 25.
While the bulk of his squad ply their trade in foreign leagues, especially in Germany, he has also more controversially stepped up a scouting drive in Europe's Polish diaspora, attracting a handful of players born or raised abroad -- provoking the fury of right-wing pundits.
Smuda was born on 22 June, 1948 in Lubomia, a village near the Czech border, as Poland emerged from the dark days of the World War II German occupation and fell under Soviet control.
A defender, he signed in 1967 to local club Odra Wodzislaw, where he spent two seasons, before enjoying top-flight action with Stal Mielec.
In 1971, he was allowed to cross the Iron Curtain for his first taste of foreign football with US clubs.
He returned the same year, signing for powerhouses Legia Warsaw, but went back to the US in 1978, playing for three clubs that year alone.
He spent the 1980s in Germany's lower leagues, ended his playing career and switching to management, before a four-year stint with Turkish sides.
Back in Poland, he finally found the limelight by saving Stal from the drop in 1993, before joining Widzew Lodz, steering them to the 1996 and 1997 title and into the Champions League group stage.
He went on to win the 1999 title with Wisla Krakow, moved to Legia and was tipped for the Poland job but was bound by his club contract.
In football's revolving door, he returned to Wisla in 2001 after Legia sacked him, to Widzew in 2002, then lowly Piotrcovia Piotrkow Trybunalski, and back to Widzew in 2003.
After a brief stint in Cyprus with Omonia Nicosia, he was back in Poland in 2005 at Odra, the club of his youth, winning a relegation battle, before heading to Zaglebie Lubin and securing a UEFA Cup berth.
He joined Lech Poznan in 2006, spending three seasons there and won the 2009 Polish cup, before getting the Poland job.
Despite the weight of history -- Poland finished third at the World Cup in 1974 and 1982 -- Smuda has said his basic goal is to reach the knockout stages.