Polish FA president Michal Listkiewicz talks about a key UEFA coaches' gathering in Warsaw.
By Maciej Iwanski
From this coming Monday to Wednesday, Warsaw will be a focal point on the European football scene. The Polish capital hosts the fifth UEFA Conference for European National Coaches, which will be attended by national team coaches from UEFA's 52 national associations, as well as other dignitaries from football's technical sector.
Tradition on the calendar
The event has become a tradition on the UEFA calendar after every major football tournament. This year, the coaches will be examining the recent FIFA World Cup in Korea/Japan and looking ahead to EURO 2004™ in Portugal as part of a packed agenda.
Michal Listkiewicz, a former international referee, has been the president of the Polish Football Federation (PZPN) since 1999. In this interview, he tells uefa.com about Poland's pride in hosting this major event, as well as Polish football's current development.
uefa.com: It must be a great honour to welcome leading European coaches to Poland...
Michal Listkiewicz: It is indeed. I am grateful to UEFA for this decision. I hope that it is only the beginning, and that we will be able to host other major UEFA events in Poland. Our dream is to organise [UEFA] European Championships in the youth categories, and we have applied to do this. The conference in Warsaw next week is also a great honour for our coaches. It is obvious that Polish coaches are not as well known in Europe as their German or Italian colleagues, but we have produced glorious names in the past, such as Kazimierz Gorski and Antoni Piechniczek. We have many talented coaches in Poland. They gain their knowledge at a special coaches' academy, founded by former national team coach Ryszard Kulesza. We hope that our past footballers can prove their abilities within clubs after finishing this academy, and around one hundred of them have already graduated. This conference is also recognition of the work undertaken by Piotr Maranda, a member of UEFA's Technical Development Committee. And after consultation with UEFA, the PZPN is to send coaches from the Polish Ekstraklasa clubs. They will be at the conference. We want to learn from the best.
The conference is testimony to Poland's excellent working relationship with UEFA, isn't it?
ML: Yes, I agree. I regard our co-operation, especially with the President, Lennart Johansson and the Chief Executive, Gerhard Aigner, as the best possible.
Do you hope that Polish clubs can make a better impression in the European competitions? It's been six years since the Polish champions made it through to the group stage of UEFA Champions League.
ML: There is nothing that the best coach can do if he has financial problems to deal with, or if a club has a lack of facilities. We hope to build at least one top-class stadium in Poland. We would like to apply for a UEFA Cup final, for example. But there is not much we can do unless we receive the help of Poland's authorities. Nevertheless, we are working hard to improve our football. We are very strict about licences for the clubs. Football is something more than just a game. It gives the opportunity to fight against alcohol and drugs. This is a chance for us all. I hope that the Polish government will agree with us, and I have already held talks on the topic with Krystyna Lybacka, Poland's minister of education and sports.
As for the young football generation. Poland has enjoyed plenty of success…
ML: Yes, but it's also our main problem. Polish players do well in Under-16 and Under-18 matches, but two years later, we usually start to do less well. The conditions must be improved. We have a shortage of good pitches, and our coaches who work with youngsters must be better rewarded. We are working on improvements, and we are hoping to co-operate with the Polish government in this respect.
What are Poland's football ambitions for the future?
ML: The results of our national team give us hope for better times. We would like to qualify for the [UEFA] European Championship final round for the first time. Although our group opponents Sweden are perhaps a stronger team, we still have a chance. Two former great international players, Zbigniew Boniek and Stefan Majewski, coach our team, and they decided to rebuild the squad after the World Cup. We also want to qualify for the Olympic Games and, hopefully, see Poland's best club in the UEFA Champions League again. For a ten-year period from 1972, we had a so-called "golden decade" in Poland. It would be possible to repeat this, but a lot of hard work needs to be done. We have 420,000 professional footballers in Poland, but there should be around two million in a country of almost 40 million citizens. Given the improvement work that we must undertake, it will be perhaps possible to repeat the good times in ten years' time. I would look forward to this - because Poles are natural-born footballers…