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Poland's pride and joy: Zbigniew Boniek at 60

Published: Thursday 3 March 2016, 9.01CET
Former Widzew Łódź, Juventus and Roma forward Zbigniew Boniek turns 60 today; UEFA.com's Piotr Koźmiński explains why he remains one of Poland's best-loved figures.
by Piotr Koźmiński
from Warsaw
Poland's pride and joy: Zbigniew Boniek at 60
Zbigniew Boniek and Poland striker Robert Lewandowski celebrate qualifying for UEFA EURO 2016 ©Getty Images

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Published: Thursday 3 March 2016, 9.01CET

Poland's pride and joy: Zbigniew Boniek at 60

Former Widzew Łódź, Juventus and Roma forward Zbigniew Boniek turns 60 today; UEFA.com's Piotr Koźmiński explains why he remains one of Poland's best-loved figures.

He led by example
Born on 3 March 1956, Boniek left home-town team Zawisza Bydgoszcz for Widzew Łódź for a fee of 400,000 old Polish złoty. It was more than the club could afford at the time, but experienced Widzew players loaned them some of the money to sign the 20-year-old, who soon became a key part of a side feted for their awesome mental strength. Three-time league runners-up with Boniek, they won championships in 1981 and 1982, by which time 'Zibi' was becoming a big name worldwide.

©Getty Images

Boniek celebrates a World Cup goal

He symbolised hope in dark times
Poland's appearance at the 1982 FIFA World Cup coincided with tense times back at home, the government having declared martial law to crush the Solidarity movement, which was demanding workers' rights and social change. The national team provided a beacon of hope at España '82, and Boniek symbolised that optimism as he scored a celebrated hat-trick in a 3-0 win over Belgium, Poland proceeding to finish as bronze medallists. 'Zibi' also came third in the race for the 1981/82 Ballon d'Or behind Paolo Rossi and Alain Giresse – the only other Polish player to rank so high was Kazimierz Deyna in 1974.

He succeeded abroad
That World Cup success vindicated Juventus, who had agreed before the finals to pay Widzew the equivalent of $1.8m for Boniek – a record fee in Poland which stood for many years. He struck up a superb footballing relationship with Michel Platini in Turin, with Boniek's prowess in European games – which, as now, were primarily played in the evening – earned him the Italian nickname 'Bello di Notte' (beauty of the night).

©Getty Images

Boniek after the Heysel final

He put aside personal trauma for Poland
Despite the terrible shock of the 1985 European Champion Clubs' Cup final, with Juve's victory against Liverpool overshadowed by the Heysel stadium disaster which claimed the lives of 39 fans, Boniek scored in a World Cup qualifier against Albania in Tirana the following day to help Poland qualify for the 1986 finals. "I took a private plane the next morning, but we were not allow to land in Tirana as it was 5am and the airport didn't open until 7am," Boniek told UEFA.com. "So the pilot took me over to Bari in Italy. We had breakfast there, then came back to Tirana. I played, I scored, and that's it." However, he was marked by the Heysel tragedy, notably giving his prize money to victims of the disaster. "You could have bought dozens of houses in Poland for that money at the time, but I refused to take it," he said.

His reputation spread worldwide
It was not just in Poland and Italy where Boniek was feted. On 4 September 1984, in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, a future national team player was born and promptly named in the Pole's honour. "My father loved this Polish player and he wanted to honour him," Boniek García told UEFA.com. "And I am not the only Boniek in Honduras. When I was at language school, I met another Boniek. He told me the reason was the same – his father loved the Pole."

Football has made him happy
Speaking to UEFA.com on Wednesday, Boniek said: "I have a wonderful wife who I met when I was 17; wonderful kids and grandchildren. I am a happy man. I fulfilled my dreams, both on and off the pitch. I enjoy being president of the Polish Football Association (PZPN). We have achieved a lot and have another 100,000 ideas. Everything is good for me." His message to UEFA.com readers: 'Wszystkiego najlepszego'. That's 'all the best' in Polish.

©Getty Images

The scoreboard during Boniek's finest hour of the 1982 World Cup

Last updated: 03/03/16 9.07CET

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