Wednesday, 3 October 2012

The Missing Piece


Wednesday, 12th October, 2005.

Old Trafford. The ‘Theatre of Dreams’.

Radoslaw Sobolewski evades the challenge of John Terry, floating a sumptuous ball to the back post. I pull away from my marker, Luke Young, and connect sweetly with my left foot. The ball flies past Paul Robinson and the score is level. England 1 Poland 1. And the name on everybody’s lips is mine; Tomasz Frankowski.


When I am asked what my career highlight is, I struggle to answer the question. I have played across the world; in France, Japan, Poland, Spain and the USA. I am like a chameleon...forever changing, never predictable. Over twenty one years as a player, I have seen and done things that most players can only dream of. So, naturally, it is hard for me to pick a memory that stands above all else. After all, I have been the top scorer in the Ekstraklasa[1] four times, have won five league titles, two Polish cups and one Super-cup. But I often choose my goal against England as my most cherished recollection, because it was that goal that confirmed my status as a household name. After that match, everybody was talking about Tomasz Frankowski. It didn’t matter that we went on to lose the game, because I had given the Polish nation a memory to cherish for the rest of their lives. Before that game, I was a hero only to the Wisla Krakow[2] fans but after I was loved by all Polish people, I was to them what David Beckham is to the English, a poster-boy for all Polish football. It was only a matter of time before I moved on to bigger and better things. I remember clearly after the game, Luke Young (Charlton’s most famous player) saying to me; ‘great goal mate’. My agent also said to me that Sir Alex Ferguson had been in attendance and perhaps we should expect a call in the coming days. The call never came...but I did not let it dent my confidence. Manchester United are interested in monetary gain, and were I not Polish, if I were instead from a country with a market that was exploitable to United, I know I would be playing for them now, without doubt. Instead, I moved to Elche...probably the biggest team in the Spanish second division at the time[3]. There, I continued my heroics in front of goal, scoring a remarkable 8 goals in 13 games. It was no surprise to me that my tenure at the club was short-lived. Frankly, bigger things were calling.


January 2006...New Year, new start. I had been at Elche for four months, but I knew already that I was too big for the club. I instructed my agent to find me a move to a club that possessed greater stature in the game. He must have been busy because I heard nothing from him for a few weeks, but eventually he called me to inform me that a club called Wolverhampton Wanderers wanted to sign me. I had never heard of them before and was initially reluctant to negotiate with them. However, when I learnt that their manager was the great Glenn Hoddle, my enthusiasm for a move grew. I flew into England with a week of the transfer window to spare, having arranged a meet with Glenn and his trusty lieutenant, his brother Carl[4].

Glenn spoke enthusiastically about his plans for Wolves, claiming that the club were paying for their sins in a past existence, that their status as a Championship club was the football equivalent of purgatory and that he intended to liberate them from this hellish existence by teaching the players the conventions of beautiful
football. Carl promised me a good motor, too. Enthused, I signed with the club on the 23rd January after a fee of £1.4 million pound was negotiated with Elche, who was surprisingly keen to let me go. On my first day of training, I soon began to understand why Glenn was regarded as such a maverick in England. We spent an hour passing the ball diagonally across the pitch, and were frequently lambasted if we took more than two touches. At the back of my mind, I felt it may have been productive to do some shooting practice, but I soon taught myself not to question Glenn’s methodology. On the eve of my debut against Manchester United, I shared a conversation with the gaffer that I remember to this day:
Glenn Hoddle: ‘You’ve trained well this week Tom, but don’t overdo it. Remember, when a player gets to 30, so does his body’
Me: ‘Okay gaffer’
GH: ‘Good, you’re a good footballer Tom with a bit of everything, certainly two good feet-which is unusual these days’
Me: ‘Thanks’
GH: ‘You have a deception of pace and you don’t have to use your legs, because the first two yards are in your head. But stay modest...I mean, look at Jesus. He was a normal run of the mill sort of guy who had a genuine gift. Be like Jesus. I need you to be like Jesus. You’re the missing piece in the jigsaw’

This conversation cleared a lot of things up for me. First of all, it explained why the other players had been a little frosty with me...clearly, they were jealous of me. The gaffer saw God-like qualities in me, and that’s probably why I was the only one who understood his training methods. Secondly, it allowed me to see what differentiated me from most other footballers, the thing that made me Jesus, I was a modest guy who had been born with an incredible gift.

So, feeling like Christ himself, I made my debut on the 29th of January, coming on as a 64th minute substitute for Carl Cort. We lost 0-3, but it’s like Glenn says; ‘we lost, but good things can come from it-both negative and positive’.


Friday 14th April; Wolves 1 Watford 1

My selfless play has seen us go one nil up against one of the division’s best sides, a crisp through ball courtesy of my right foot finding Jeremie Aliadiere, who duly scored. I am running the show, all that is missing is a goal. The people of Wolverhampton are poor judges of artistry, they think that the job of a striker is only to score goals. I keep hearing about this man, Steve Bull I think his name is, who is apparently their best ever striker. Sure, it is easy to score a lot of goals, I know this better than anyone. But right now, I am sacrificing my goals for the team, yet these idiotas do not see this. They ridicule me, calling me ‘The Pole without a Goal’, but I do not listen to their nonsense. I know, as does Glenn, that I will fire this club to glory...
Shortly after the first goal, the ball deflects into my path. There is no one in front of me, so I begin to race towards goal. There is only Ben Foster to beat, all I need to do is to decide how to beat him...left corner, right, a chip perhaps? Maybe I’ll take it round him, go for style and prove to my detractors that I am the real deal. Or maybe I should just set somebody else up...prove a point to them all. By now my head is spinning, I’ve never felt uncertainty in front of goal before...and now Foster is at my feet. In desperation, I kick at the loose ball, which deflects of his outstretched body, and the chance is gone.


March 28th, 2010; Bialystok 2 Arka Gdynia 0

The home crowd is rapturous. My brace of goals has ensured another victory for the team. Usually, I am always happy for the team, but today is I am happy for me. My two goals has seen me overtake the great Friedrich Scherfke[5] as the Ekstraklasa’s 9th all time top scorer, my overall tally resting at an impressive 132 goals. As I depart the pitch, I look around the stadium, observing the adulation in the eyes of my fans. They are here to see me...I can tell this by the way they sing my name, which rings through my ears like the sweetest music. For years, my time in England haunted me. I doubted myself every day after that game against Watford...but, no longer. I have confirmed my status as one of the most outstanding centre forwards in the modern game. Not everybody will accept this, because there is an inherent snobbery towards the Polish league throughout Europe. But in my mind, my feats in the Ekstraklasa put me in the same level of esteem that the likes of Henry and Shearer occupy in England. This is what counts...what is in my mind, what I perceive, what I know and what I can hear, and right not I hear one name...the name on everybody’s lips; Tomasz Frankowski.


1991-1993       Jagiellonia Bialystok               12 apps            1 goal
1993-1996       Strasbourg                               21 apps            2 goals
1996                Nagoya Grampus Eight          7 apps              1 goal
1996-1997       Poitiers                                    32 apps            22 goals
1997-1998       Martigues                                19 apps            5 goals
1998-2005       Wisla Krakow                         173 apps          115 goals
2005-2006       Elche                                       14 apps            8 goals
2006-2007       Wolverhampton Wanderers    16 apps            0 goals
2007-2008       Tenerife                                   19 apps            3 goals
2008-2009       Chicago Fire                            17 apps            2 goals
2009-present   Jagiellonia Bialystok               88 apps            40 goals

1999-2006       Poland                                     22 apps            10 goals

[1] Ekstraklasa is the Polish premier division and is sponsored by T-Mobile. It consists of 16 clubs and the season runs from July to May, in which 30 games are played by each team. Over its history, there have been 78 participants and 16 winners; Wisla Krakow holds the record for most championship wins, having lifted the trophy 14 times.
[2] Wisla Krakow are Poland’s most successful team; Tomasz played for nearly seven years, thrice finishing as the league’s top scorer. During that period, the club won 5 Polish championships, 2 Polish cups and one super-cup.
[3] Elche finished the 2005-2006 season, Tomasz’s only with the club, in 14th place, winning 13 games, drawing 14 and losing 15. Throughout their history, they have endured 19 seasons as a La Liga club, 33 in the Segunda Division, 7 in the Segunda Division B and 19 in the Tercera (fourth division). They won the Segunda Division in 1958-59 and also lifted the Copa del Rey in 1968-69.
[4] Carl Hoddle (1967-2008) endured a relatively unspectacular career as a player, turning out for Leyton Orient and Barnet after being let go by Tottenham as a youngster. After retiring, he worked in the used car trade and as a pub landlord before his brother Glenn recruited him as a coach and scout at Wolverhampton Wanderers. Sadly, he died on the 2nd March due to a brain aneurysm.
[5] Friedrich Scherfke (1909-1983) was an interwar midfielder for the Polish national team. Scherfke was an ethnic German as he was born in Poznan during the German Empire’s occupation of Poland. He spent most of his career at Warta Poznan, one of the elite sides in the Polish Soccer League during the 1920/30s.  He played 12 times for the national team, scoring twice, the most famous of those goals being Poland’s first ever World Cup goal in 1938. Later in life, he fought for the Germans, before dying at the age of 74.

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