Polish football is in mourning for Włodzimierz Smolarek, a key member of the Poland team that finished third at the FIFA World Cup in 1982 and one of the finest strikers of his generation, who has passed away at the age of 54.
Włodzimierz Smolarek started his career with his home-town amateur club Włókniarz Aleksandrów Łódzki before joining RTS Widzew Łódź (1974–78) and Legia Warszawa (1978–80). It was back at Widzew Łódź (1980–86) for a second spell that he won two Polish league titles, in 1981 and 1982, and the Polish Cup in 1985. He continued his career abroad with Eintracht Frankfurt in Germany (1986–88) – lifting the German Cup in his last season – before a move to the Netherlands where he played for Feyenoord (1988–90) and FC Utrecht (1990–96).
Smolarek was capped 60 times and scored 13 goals for Poland in a national-team career lasting from 1980 to 1992. The forward also appeared at two World Cups. In 1982 in Spain, Poland reached the semi-finals before succumbing to eventual winners Italy – finishing third with a narrow victory over France. Smolarek also featured at the following World Cup in Mexico four years later.
Smolarek, who later worked in youth development roles with Feyenoord and the Polish Football Federation (PZPN), will be remembered as a competitive frontrunner who never gave up. Last year he became a Polish Friend of UEFA EURO 2012. His son, striker Euzebiusz, is a former Polish international who now plays for Dutch outfit ADO Den Haag.
PZPN president Grzegorz Lato paid tribute to his former national team-mate, saying: "Włodek was my friend and colleague. I find it hard to believe he has passed away. He was always a good spirit within the team. His golden times were in the 1970s and 1980s, when he won us qualification for the World Cup in Spain. I remember his performance in Leipzig [Smolarek scored twice in a vital 3-2 qualifying group win against East Germany in October 1981] and the last minutes of the match with the USSR during the tournament [a second group-phase draw which took Poland into the semi-finals].
"Recently, he was searching for new football talents with Polish roots – he had a really good nose for that," Lato added. "In fact, I am still trying to come to terms with the news of his death. It's a big shock for us."
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