Unassuming Kuba is Poland's captain fantastic

13 June 2012 04:48

After his stunning equaliser against Russia saved his nation's chances of a berth in the Euro 2012 quarter-finals, Poland captain Kuba Blaszczykowski could be forgiven for letting things go to his head.

But the 26-year-old midfielder, who has won the label "Little Figo" from Poland icon Zbigniew Boniek, brushes off the personal praise.

One of a trio of stars from German double winners Borussia Dortmund who form Poland's backbone, he is known for his unassuming demeanour.

Even after being named man of the match for a lightning shot that took the score to 1-1 on Tuesday in Warsaw's National Stadium, he insisted it was very much a team effort.

"It's always good to score the equalising goal," he said.

"However, I think the whole team deserves the praise, because every one of us put a lot into this game."

"We have this character and charisma," he added.

Strength of character is something Blaszczykowski - who goes by the short form of his first name Jakub, and is called simply "Kuba" on his Dortmund shirt - has no lack of.

His success in the spotlight is all the more impressive because of a traumatic experience he suffered as a child.

In September 1996, when he was just 11 and already playing for his local youth team near the southern city of Czestochowa, he witnessed the stabbing of his mother Anna by his father, who was later jailed for 15 years.

"This will stay with me for my entire life. I'd give anything for my mother to be still alive," Blaszczykowski, who rarely evokes his past, said in a Polish television interview two years ago.

"What happened switched my life around by 180 degrees," he added. "It's like a rock fell on your head, and after a week you wake up and have to start life all over again. I'll never understand what happened, nor why."

On May 20, just before Blaszczykowski was due at Poland's pre-Euro training camp in Austria, his father died and the player delayed his arrival to attend the funeral.

Suggesting how emotionally tough attending that was likely to have been, Polish media underlined that the player and his brother Dawid had avoided contact with their father, who served his time and was released.

After losing their mother Blaszczykowski and his brother were raised by their grandmother.

Czestochowa is home to one of the leading Roman Catholic pilgrimage sites in Europe, and with religion a major part of Polish culture, Blaszczykowski found solace in faith.

"God watches over me and protects me," he has said.

Blaszczykowski is himself a father. His wife Agata gave birth to their daughter Oliwia in April 2011.

Being surrounded by a football-loving environment even after his trauma may also have helped.

His uncle Jerzy Brzeczek, now 41, was a Poland midfielder for seven years, captaining the team that won Olympic silver in Barcelona in 1992 and retiring in 1999.

Blaszczykowski transferred from fourth-tier side KS Czestochowa to top-flight Wisla Krakow in 2005, and signed for Dortmund two years later.

He first donned the Poland shirt in 2004 with the Under-19s, then graduated to the Under-21s, before his first senior call-up in 2006. He has been capped 53 times.

But injury sidelined him for the 2006 World Cup, where Poland's showing was lacklustre, and the story was similar for their debut Euro in 2008.

Fittingly, his first senior goal came in August 2007, when Poland drew 2-2 in a friendly with Russia.

Poland coach Franciszek Smuda, who took the helm in October 2009, awarded Blaszczykowski the captaincy 13 months later, citing the midfielder's "outstanding character."

It was the first time that he had worn the armband at any level, and he has sported it with pride since then.

"I'm waiting with a lot of positive attitude for the next game," he said.

Poland face the Czech Republic on Saturday, knowing they have to win to clinch a spot in the quarter-finals.

Source: AFP