Piotr Zielinski: Poland's playmaker tipped to be the next Kevin De Bruyne
World Cup 2018 World Cup 2018: Guardian Experts' Network Piotr Zielinski: Poland's playmaker tipped to be the next Kevin De Bruyne
His Euro 2016 campaign ended with him sobbing in the changing rooms but he has grown to be Polandâs creative star
This article is part of the Guardianâs 2018 World Cup Expertsâ Network, a cooperation between some of the best media organisations from the 32 countries who have qualified for Russia. theguardian.com is run ning previews from two countries each day in the run-up to the tournament kicking off on 14 June.
As the second half of Polandâs Euro 2016 match against Ukraine began, a heartbroken Piotr Zielinski sat crying in the Stade VÃ©lodrome dressing room. The manager, Adam Nawalka, had substituted him after an anonymous 45 minutes in their final group stage game; only the goalkeeper Lukasz Fabianski had completed fewer passes than him in the first half which is never a good sign for a playmaker. They were Zielinskiâs first and last minutes at the tournament.
Two years later ZieliÅski goes to the World Cup as Polandâs big hope. The playing-time situation has improved dramatically â" only Robert Lewandowski had more time on the pitch in qualifying â" and Zielinski is on a different level now, both in terms of confidence and the qualities he offers the team.
Zielinskiâs journey to international football began in his familyâs garden in the small town of Zabkowice Slaskie. He polished his technique there from a very young age, competing with his older brother Pawel in games and challenges invented by their father Boguslaw.
It was a typical family home, but not a typical family unit. Boguslaw and his wife Beata, opened a foster home and as well as their own three sons â" Piotr, Pawel and Tomek â" the couple took in four other children. Eight year old Piotr initially struggled to accept strangers in his house. He felt threatened to the point where he started to mark his territory: âPiotrâs bedâ, âPiotrâs deskâ, âPiotrâs wardrobeâ. It took years, but step by step he started to feel more comfortable with the situation, talking with his new friends and playing football with them. Over time, it helped shape him into a sensitive and compassionate young man. Now, with the financial resources of an internationa l footballer, he has bought buildings in Zabkowice and nearby Targowica, which his parents have converted into two childrenâs homes.
Zielinski was little more than a child when he came to the attention of a Udinese scout in 2011. âHe was that good I didnât even know if he was left- or right-footed,â remembers Andrea Carnevale. âPure talent with a lot of class in how he moved around the pitch. He was the youngest in the group but shone bright.â Udinese invited him to Italy and needed only a few training sessions to be persuaded to buy him from Zaglebie Lubin.
A two-year loan spell at Empoli saw him bloom and it was early 2016, with Zielinski now 21 years old, when JÃ¼rgen Klopp called. The player had been on his radar for a while, and good reviews from his former Borussia Dortmund players Jakub Blaszczykowski and Lukasz Piszczek had piqued the Liverpool managerâs interest. Klopp decided to act, inviting Zielinski and his a gent Bartlomiej Bolek to the north-west of England.
Zielinski was ready to move to the Premier League but Udinese had other plans. The then-Napoli manager Maurizio Sarri, with whom he had worked during his spell at Empoli, was determined to take him to the Stadio San Paolo. Napoli owner Aurelio De Laurentis promptly used his connections at Udinese, and Zielinski became a Napoli player for â¬16m. âHe will be the next Kevin De Bruyne,â said Sarri.
Heâs no longer the Piotr who cried durin g Euro 2016, nor does he care about critics much anymore. He can bear the weight of responsibility and is more effective on the pitch. That was evident during the qualifiers, in which he had a crucial impact with six assists, and he finally scored his first goal under Nawalka in the March friendly against South Korea.
Zielinski knows he has to be mentally strong now. More and more people look at him and expect him big things, so he has worked with the sports psychologist Kamil Wodka, who also helps Piszczek and the triple Olympic ski jumping champion Kamil Stoch.World Cup 2018: complete guide to all 736 players Read more
âI am a fast runner but Piotr is a very fast thinker,â says his Poland team-mate Kamil Grosicki. âGreat technique, knows exactly where to put a ball, predicts what can happen and chooses the best solution like a chess player. He can give us a lot in Russia. Heâs the biggest talent in Poland.â
And Klopp still has his n ame in a notepad. Zielinski, still 24, has a buyout clause of â¬60m in his Napoli contract, which should not prove much of a deterrent for a determined Premier League club. De Laurentis has already put a new deal on the table but a successful tournament in Russia could change Zielinskiâs future. He will marry his fiancee, Laura Slowik, shortly after returning home and perhaps a new partnership is on the cards in his professional life, too.
Tomasz Wlodarczyk writes for PrzeglÄ d Sportowy.
Follow him on Twitter here.Topics
- World Cup 2018
- World Cup 2018: Guardian Experts' Network
- World Cup
- Share on Facebook
- Share on Twitter
- Share via Email
- Share on LinkedIn
- Share on Pinterest
- Share on Google+
- Share on WhatsApp
- Share on Mess enger
- Reuse this content