By Maciej Iwanski
One of Poland's oldest clubs, Wisla Kraków, are writing a new chapter in their 97-year history this season after reaching the UEFA Cup fourth round.
The Polish Cup holders and First Division leaders take on S.S. Lazio in Rome on Thursday, keen to add the Italian side to a list of scalps that includes Parma AC and FC Schalke 04. According to Wisla chairman Bogdan Basalaj, the quarter-finals are a realistic ambition for a team who six years ago were fighting relegation from the Ekstraklasa.
uefa.com: Is it fair to say the victories against Parma and Schalke were the best moments yet of your six-year tenure as Wisla chairman?
Bogdan Basalaj: I would say so. Since 1997, when Boguslaw Cupial bought the club, Wisla have established themselves as one of Poland's top teams. We have been champions twice [in 1999 and 2001] and runners-up in the league, and have played some great matches in the UEFA Cup. We've knocked out Real Zaragoza and now Parma and Schalke, while last year we lost narrowly against FC Barcelona in a UEFA Champions League qualifying tie.
uefa.com: Few would have bet on Wisla beating Schalke after a 1-1 draw in the first leg in Krakow. However, the team surprised everyone by winning 4-1 in Gelsenkirchen...
BB: I was confident we would win the tie. We had enough ability to go through, although you can never be entirely sure of getting a result in football. Now we can look towards the quarter-finals. The important thing, though, is to keep hold of our players. But if one of them does leave, we will have to be ready to bring in a replacement.
uefa.com: How important is your coach, Henryk Kasperczak, to the Wisla success story?
BB: We tried for a long time to get Henryk Kasperczak, and it was great when we finally managed to bring him to Wisla last March. He had spent 24 years working in France after a successful playing career and is now the man responsible for all the coaching done at the club - from the senior team down. People also talk about the star players here like Kamil Kosowski and Maciej Zurawski, our midfielder and striker, and I agree that they are valuable to us. But there are many others who have made this season possible, like [defenders] Arkadiusz Glowacki, Miroslaw Szymkowiak and Marcin Baszczynski.
uefa.com: There has been speculation about the futures of the coach and of players like Kosowski and Zurawski. What is the club's position on this?
BB: Henryk Kasperczak has a three-year contract [signed in March 2002] and I would like to see him stay at Wisla for at least that length of time. As for the players, we do not need to sell, but nor do we want to hold back someone's career. If a player does move abroad, it will not weaken us. However, Zurawski, for example, has a contract until 2007 and you have to remember that we still have ambitions of our own in Europe.
uefa.com: Wisla currently lead the Ekstraklasa and are in contention for a Champions League qualifying berth. Could they become the first Polish side since 1996 to reach the Champions League proper?
BB: You need a bit of luck in the draw, and Legia Warszawa lacked that this season when they got Barcelona. But if we can win the title, it will make us that bit stronger in terms of the club's organisation as well as the playing side. We have just started building a new training complex with six pitches and our next step is to improve the stadium. We would have a chance, I think.
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