Legia Warsaw: The collapse of a powerhouse or a club in predictable peril? ￼
On these shores, Legia Warsaw are seen as the dominant force in Polish football, but how true is this perception? Calum Muldoon explores the club’s peaks and troughs, and ponders how they can escape their current precarious predicament.
There is no feeling like watching your club win the league. The nerves you feel from August all the way through till May are unrivalled. The thrill of victory is like an elixir, while the embarrassment of defeat can ruin your week. When you’re used to winning, that feeling of disappointment from watching your side in defeat will feel even worse. Simply being accustomed to success does not, however, guarantee it, and makes the fall from grace seem more like a plummet into the abyss.
That is the feeling engulfing Legia Warsaw fans at the moment. Their beloved club has crumbled from winning the Polish League for the fifteenth time to sitting second bottom with only 15 points within only a matter of months.
Looking back on the last decade in Polish football, Legia have arguably cemented themselves as the country’s biggest team. Known for their wildly passionate support, a trip to Warsaw was seen as formidable both nationally and internationally. With a gifted youth academy, some of Poland’s greatest players have come through Legia’s ranks, including former Arsenal keeper Wojciech Szczęsny, who played between the sticks in Legia’s youth team.
While Legia were churning out some of Europe’s finest, they were still struggling to run away with the league. Last season they won the title by five points, the year before was by three and the year before that was lost to Piast Gilwice. They haven’t been the Polish powerhouse that everyone abroad knows them as.
Legia are suffering from an identity crisis. With a reputation plagued by hooliganism, Legia have never settled on any idea of what they want to be. A key example of this is the fact that they have gone through 13 different managerial appointments in just seven years, which gives the Watford board a run for their money. The constant chopping and changing within the club has left the players constantly jumping between tactics and mindsets, never fully able to grasp what being a Legia Warsaw player is all about.
Czesław Michniewiczs and Mareb Golebiewski had a go at the title defence, but would be sacked one after the other, the latter only lasting less than two months on the job after a string of losses sent them into the relegation zone. Legia’s board were desperate, turning to Aleksandar Vukovic, who has managed the club on three separate occasions and so far, their fortunes have not changed for the better. Currently sitting in 17th on just 15 points, the side has been criticised heavily for their inability to take goalscoring opportunities, having mustered just 19 goals despite dominating possession in the majority of their outings.
The most infuriating part of Legia Warsaw’s demise is that they are the ones pulling the trigger themselves. Some of the board’s biggest slip-ups have come in the transfer window, recently selling perhaps their best player last season, Josip Juranovic, to Celtic. A Croatian international right back could shut down any chance opposing strikers might conjure up, and before they know it, he is charging up the wing and creating a goalscoring opportunity of his own. Key to the title win of last season, he was even named in Ekstraklasa 2020/21 team of the season and became a fan favourite. Celtic saw this and swooped in with an offer of £2.5 million, the board rubbing their hands in delight. For the fans, to sell a starting Croatian international with that much talent for that amount is almost criminal ,and the board were not making up for it in terms of incomings.
Legia brought in Kosovo international Lirim Kastrati to bolster up that right wing and so far, he has not made the shockwaves in the league the club had expected. In the Ekstraklasa, Kastrati has played a total of nine games and has zero goals and assists to his name. In all other competitions, he has only been involved in five goals. What if I told you he was Legia’s second most expensive signing ever? Now, there is still time in the season, and Kastrati proved his talents with Lokomotiva Zagreb, even scoring the winning goal for Legia against Spartak Moscow in the Europa League group stage. In terms of consistency, Kastrati simply has not taken the shape of the saviour of Warsaw the fans need right now.
While you can point the finger of blame at the board, a minority of Legia’s support have been somewhat detrimental to the confidence of the players. In December, the team bus was attacked, with players threatened and assaulted. Police arrived and prevented the situation from escalating. This group of fans have shown the ugly, violent underbelly of the Legia support. With players being intimidated by supporters, it would not be a surprise to see some buckle under the pressure. It should go without saying that, terrorising your players does not get you results, and some Legia supporters may have rubbed salt on the club’s wounds instead of healing them.
There is a point in every season where you sense how the rest of the campaign will go. Legia are not at that point yet. Their flabby finishing can still be tightened and their chance to sign players is not up, but the main part in getting themselves back on their feet is confidence. The club is a nervous wreck right now and have no idea what they want to be. Fans are biting at their ankles to become a national and European powerhouse, but they don’t know how to get there. Until they figure these conundrums out, plummeting prevails, and the abyss lurks ever closer.