The departure of national coach Leo Beenhakker was inevitable after defeat in
Slovenia all but ended Poland’s World Cup qualification hopes.
Dariusz Kurowski in Warsaw
Leo Beenhakker paid the price for Poland’s failure to qualify for the World Cup. The 67-year-old Dutch coach was sacked following the 3-0 defeat by Slovenia in Maribor. With two remaining games – away to the Czech Republic and at home to group leaders Slovakia – the national side have only a mathematical chance of finishing in runners-up spot.
Immediately after the final whistle in Maribor, FA chairman Grzegorz Lato declared on Polish major commercial station TVN: “It was Beenhakker’s last game as Poland coach. This decision is final.”
Beenhakker was furious when informed of Lato’s declaration by a TV reporter at the post-match press conference, saying: “That says much more about the level of Mr Lato and the board of the FA than about me.”
Beenhakker did not return to Poland with the team and instead went directly to Holland. The next day Lato apologised for his “emotional behaviour” in the aftermath of the painful defeat and admitted that he should have informed the coach about the dismissal before going public. He invited Beenhakker to a meeting to discus the details of his departure, but the coach said: “I do not want to see Mr Lato ever again!”
Beenhakker was appointed in July 2006 after the disappointing World Cup first-round exit in Germany and two years ago became a national hero when he led the team to their first-ever appearance at the European Championship.
He described Poland as “a sleeping giant with as many young talents as in the greatest footballing countries”. But his own star began to fade after Euro 2008, where his side collected just one draw in three games and finished bottom of their group.
Things got worse when Lato, a national legend and the 1974 World Cup’s top scorer, was elected FA chairman in October last year. He never believed Beenhakker to be the best choice as national coach and FA officials openly described the Dutchman as “arrogant”.
Marriage of convenience
When Beenhakker became an adviser to his beloved Feyenoord earlier this year, Lato was unhappy at the arrangement and their relationship became a marriage of convenience. After the defeat by Slovenia, described by Beenhakker as Poland’s worst game during his period in charge, the Dutchman’s departure was inevitable.
Under-23 coach Stefan Majewski looks likely to act as caretaker for the remaining two qualifiers. But after that, who knows?
Majewski has ambitions to stay for longer but there are other candidates: Franciszek Smuda (three-times Polish league champion with Widzew Lodz and Wisla Krakow), Henryk Kasperczak (former coach of Ivory Coast, Tunisia, Morocco, Mali and Senegal), Pawel Janas (Beenhakker’s predecessor) and Maciej Skorza (winner of two titles with Wisla in 2008 and 2009). Lato said: “It is too early to talk about names. But the next coach definitely will be a Pole.”
As co-hosts with Ukraine of Euro 2012, Poland will have an automatic place in the tournament and will not play any competitive game till June 2012, so the new coach will have two-and-a-half years to prepare a strong team. But, on the other hand, fans’ expectations before the European Championship in their own country will be incredibly high. And taking into consideration the low level of Polish football at the moment, it is difficult to find anybody who can fulfil it.
And what of Beenhakker? He plans to remain at Feyenoord and will not consider a return to Poland. His answer to the question, ”what do you regret the most?”, was short and direct: “Nothing.”