A six-time Liga champion with Real Sociedad de Fútbol and FC Barcelona, José Mari Bakero also claimed the European Champion Clubs' Cup and UEFA Cup Winners' Cup during his time at the Camp Nou. Now 47, he remains hungry for new challenges and took on a major task last autumn when he was offered the chance to lead KSP Polonia Warszawa with the club second from bottom.
"The team was a complete mess," Bakero, who took over 13 matches into the season, told UEFA.com. "They had lost most of their games and it was not easy to put things right, but we did it in the end and achieved the most important goal; we stayed in the top division. Now I know Polish football quite well. To start with I had no idea, but now I am quite familiar with the teams and players."
Given the challenge that he has been set by Polonia's charismatic owner, that knowledge could be invaluable. After the final game of the season, Józef Wojciechowski sat down with the coach and gave him "the most unusual offer of my life", the upshot of which will lead to Bakero taking a 25% share in the club instead of a large bonus if he guides the team to the title.
The former Spanish international certainly has plenty of experience on which to draw having worked as an assistant to Llorenç Serra Ferrer, Louis van Gaal and Ronald Koeman at Barça and briefly led Málaga CF's reserves and Real Sociedad before heading to Poland. The coach has every reason for optimism, having already come through a testing first season in the Ekstraklasa.
"We improved our results and the standard of our play in recent months, and personally I am glad because I survived the pressure which was on me from the start," said Bakero. "When I came to Poland, people knew my name but they had no idea about my coaching skills. Everybody, including the Polonia players, was watching me carefully but I managed to deal with that."
The next challenge is even bigger. Wojciechowski has said: "Everyone knows I hate to be second, in life and football. I will give Bakero everything he needs, but in return I expect to win the title race. If not, the coach knows what will happen." Bakero responded: "I am glad the president is ambitious. I will fight for the title if we get some good players." Thus far the wealthy Wojciechowski has been true to his word, with the club's centenary season being heralded by the arrivals of defender Jakub Tosik and experienced goalkeeper Arkadiusz Onyszko.
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