Poland Says Farewell to a Legend

by Jakub Krzyzostaniak

He may not have scored the goals Maciej “Magic” Zurawski did, or sprayed passes around the midfield like Miroslaw Szymkowiak, but with over a decade of constant, solid form, Michal Zewlakow quietly became the most-capped player in Polish national team history. Poland’s upcoming friendly against Greece will also be Michal’s farewell match as he gathers his record-setting 102nd cap.

Michal started his career in his hometown Warsaw, where he first started kicking a ball around for Drukarz Warszawa. He would eventually move up to Polonia Warszawa where he played with his twin brother, striker, Marcin Zewlakow. The Zewlakow’s made the move westward to Belgium soon after breaking in to the first team at Polonia and moved through a few clubs in the Belgian Pro League.  Michal, was one of the few outfield players who moved out of Poland was able to win considerable honors and get serious playing time. He would flourish at Anderlecht where he won two league titles and debuted in the UEFA Champions League. He has the second-most appearances in the competition for Poles, second only to 2005 Champions League winner Jerzy Dudek.  Zewlakow made the move to Greece and top club Olympiakos where he was a regular in the Greek defense. Three Greek league championships ensured more Champions League play for the Pole and cemented him as a defensive stalwart for the national team alongside all of this. This season Zewlakow moved to Ankaragucu Ankara as he contemplates also finishing his club career.

Michal’s national team debut came against New Zealand June 19, 1999. His ability to play across the back of defense, and strong form made Zewlakow an important part of Poland’ qualifying campaigns. He was an integral part of the resurgent Polish side which qualified for the 2002 World Cup in Korea/Japan, the first tournament after 16 years in the wild. Michal played in two games during the disappointing tournament, but as a young player he gained a wealth of experience. After an unsuccessful Euro 2004 campaign, the Poles once again qualified for the World Cup, this time Germany 2006. He played in all three group matches in yet again, a disappointing tournament for the Poles (notice the pattern). This was followed by qualification for Euro 2008 in Austria/Switzerland, where Zewlakow played in all three matches, wearing the captain’s armband in the third. He would obtain the captain’s armband officially when former coach Leo Beenhakker announced him as the leader for 2010 World Cup qualifying. This was one of the lowest points in Michal’s national team career, as during the match against Northern Ireland, his back pass bounced over the foot of goalkeeper Artur Boruc, and rolled in to the Polish net. This loss would prove extremely costly as the Poles failed to advance to the final tournament.

Zewlakow was kept on as captain when Franciszek Smuda took over, with hopes the veteran defender would be able to mentor his younger, mistake-prone teammates. His advancing age though, and an in-flight drinking incident on the team’s return from the United States last fall led to him being dropped from the team. The last friendly will be played in Athens, in front of Olympiako’s fans. Hopefully, Zewlakow will be allowed to lead out the team one final time, it’s the least Smuda could do for a player who quietly and efficiently became one of the best defenders in Polish football.

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