José María Bakero won four Spanish titles, the European Champion Clubs' Cup and the UEFA Cup Winners' Cup as an FC Barcelona player, but in his first foreign coaching role he has a new task – saving KSP Polonia Warszawa from Ekstraklasa relegation.
Two-time Polish champions Polonia lie second from bottom 13 games into the season and club owner Józef Wojciechowski knew drastic action was needed. His Dutch adviser, Tonny Bruins Slot – assistant to Johan Cruyff when Barcelona lifted the 1991/92 European Cup – suggested Bakero and the 46-year-old former Spanish international signed a contract for the four remaining matches of 2009, with an option for an 18-month deal if things work out. "This is a big challenge," Bakero told uefa.com. "Poland is a country with a growing reputation. Warsaw is a big city, so I think it is a good opportunity to work here."
Bakero, also a Spanish champion with Real Sociedad de Fútbol before joining Barcelona, has assisted the likes of Llorenç Serra Ferrer, Louis van Gaal and Ronald Koeman. He also, briefly, coached Málaga CF's reserves and Real Sociedad, sparing both from relegation, so is familiar with the job spec. "I know this situation is difficult but I am here to change it," he said. "Before coming to Poland I was told by Polonia officials that the team are much better than their recent results suggest and, after taking some training sessions, I agree. The lads can play much better than they have recently. They lost confidence and it was difficult to play in such conditions."
Bakero has happy memories of Poland. In 1988/89, Barcelona faced Lech Poznań in the Cup Winners' Cup second round; they drew the first leg 1-1 at Camp Nou, got the same result in the return, before winning on penalties and going on to lift the first European trophy of his career. "We were very lucky at Poznań, who were ahead on penalties and needed only one more to knock us out," recalled Bakero. "Fortunately for Barcelona, their player missed and we eventually won. So, Poland means 'luck' for me and I hope the same will apply with my work here."
There will be a Spanish link to Bakero's Polish debut on Friday in the derby against Legia Warszawa. Legia are coached by Jan Urban, a former opponent from CA Osasuna. "I know Jan Urban and I know the fans are waiting for this match," Bakero said. "It is good to start with a derby as these kind of matches are the essence of football. I cannot guarantee Polonia excellent results from the beginning but I will give all my experience and heart to the team."
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