Mariusz Rumak: The Stallion of Lech


Our newest guest post is from Jakub Żurawski who profiles title challengers Lech Poznań’s much-derided manager Mariusz Rumak. He argues that press and fans need to be a bit more understanding of the situation in which Rumak has to work.  Today his Lech side face Legia in Warsaw in a crucial top of the table clash.

Recently Lech Poznań celebrated its 92nd birthday. Lech fans all over the globe sent in their wishes via social media using the #92Lecha hashtag. From kids to adults, from pupils, students, ordinary men & women to journalists and football stars; fans wished, among other things, Lech to beat Legia on Saturday to winning this year’s title and success in Europe. However social media would be dull and boring if it wasn’t for those who wished Lech all the worst on their special day. Indeed many Legia fans sarcastically wished for Lech manager Mariusz Rumak to be at the helm of their rivals for 92 years. In fact for Lech’s board these were perhaps the best wishes the club received.

“Riding the Stallion (Rumak means stallion in English) to Europe” is the most popular play on words used to describe either Lech’s good form or to laugh at their supporters. This mysterious “Europe” is not the place to which we as Poles geographically belong but rather the so-called “elite” group of 80 teams who reach the group stages of either the Champions or Europa League – something the Polish footballing communityso much desire to join. European cups are the inferiority complex of the nation, the pimple on the face of Ekstraklasa that no one is capable of squeezing out. Considering these desires and the financial benefits of playing with the European elite, it is obvious that the primary goals for the biggest Polish clubs is to qualify for these competitions.

For sure, Lech Poznań can be considered as one of these big clubs and the expectations of fans and the local media are high. Inevitably the team’s manager is held responsible for the current form of the side. So when the team is under-performing, headlines demand his head – something that Rumak has experienced a lot of recently. However those who judge Lech’s manager either in the press or those supporting the side do so without context – presenting a narrow-minded view that does not do Rumak justice.

Back to the roots

With a constantly changing present, it’s often wise to find some answers in the past. A friend of mine told me recently: “Franciszek Smuda’s (Lech manager between 2006-9) team was the last one that played with style.” Inspired by this statement I decided to think about the side which contained Robert Lewandowski & co. and asked INEA Stadium visitors for some guidance. Most of those I talked with replied that the “last Lech team that had style” was that good because of the atmosphere in the locker room, although no one was able to specify what this atmosphere was. One member of the blue and white army told me “We could just feel it in the air. We could see the desire and the striving for greatness.”

The picture created by the incomplete memories of supporters is well replenished by the “Przegląd Sportowy” journalist: Maciej Henszel. The expert on all things Lech focused rather on financial matters: “Lech back then made a number of brave investments. In the summer of 2008 they spent almost 2 million Euros on Manuel Arboleda, Robert Lewandowski, Sławomir Peszko, Semir Stilić and Tomasz Bandrowski. Combined with the players Smuda already had, they created a so-called Polish dream-team”.

Henszel continues: “They were all rather young players so they needed to gain match experience, which was later a key to winning trophies. In the 2008/09 campaign they toughened up while performing in the UEFA Cup. Later on they became champions in 2010 and excited millions with their performances in Europa League. That team, even though it was built with young talents, was also blessed with experience. The players, although they were thrown into deep water did not sink and emerged with trophies.”

Not the only one to blame

I guess we can safely assume that there are better coaches than Mariusz Rumak that would be interested in taking the Lech job when he leaves. I’m sure the so-called “public opinion” is convinced that there are better coaches who are more well-suited to the job at the INEA stadium. But is that the case for the Lech board? This I’m not so certain about. Mariusz Rumak, for them, simply pays off.

After the disastrous reign of former Spanish international Jose Maria Bakero, Rumak was the proverbial managerial “bargain”. Bakero’s assistant was a man who could manage the club he always dreamt of leading and stand with Lech through thick and thin. Today – after two years of fulfilling his duty – he seems to look like a marionette in the board’s hands. The thirty seven year old is the only person at the club that keeps in touch with the outside world. Basically, it looks like he’s the only one that takes the hits for Lech’s true bosses.

It’s not Rumak’s fault that the owner – Jacek Rutkowski – is reluctant to invest in his property. “Lech will never be in debt while I’m here, we will never manage the club in such a fashion” – the owner told journalists in 2011. There are a lot of urban legends about transfers that fell through at the last minute at Rutkowski’s say-so. Today’s Lech differs very much from the one of Smuda mainly because of the change in the model of running the club. Since the worldwide economic recession Rutkowski has modified his ownership style – the one thing however that has never changed are the expectations surrounding the club.

What could be seen as Rumak’s fault is his unfulfilled promises. Lech were supposed to play the way they do at the elite clubs the Poznań so much wants to emulate. Unfortunately it’s hard to derive pleasure from watching the side from the INEA Stadion play even though Rumak has been in charge for two years.

Some may rightfully argue that it was only after achieving much more than expected with a ruined squad left by Jose Mari Bakero, that Rumak had a chance to build something on his own. The problem in Poland is there is never time to build anything at a club such as Lech. The club needs the money that flows only with success and the fans want to watch the team play the right way.

Rumak was then and still is a young manager who is constantly learning new things. He had to learn how to react quickly on the pitch, deal with pressure, cope with crises that arose in the team and poor periods of form. But that was not all – he also needed to learn the basics – how to speak publicly and to find a balance between protecting the interests of the club and satisfying public opinion. But this all of this takes time and cannot be picked up immediately. At such a big club as Lech is there still time for studying?

Mariusz Rumak’s role in Poznań could be quite the story for a drama. It’s plot tells of a tragic character who has a chance at happiness from a “dream come true” job, the sadness of not quite having the abilities or conditions necessary to fulfill expectations and the dastardly public opinion that would like to bury the angelic protagonist alive. I’d call it ‘the Stallion of Lech’ – yes, that fits.

Thanks go out to Jakub for writing this post – you can follow him on Twitter here

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