Michał Pazdan: The head is the key
His blocking skills are a separate sports discipline. Today, there is not a single supporter who could imagine the Polish national team without the Legia Warszawa footballer in it.
This was the second match of the qualifying round in the European Cup in France. Poles finally won their opening match (1:0 against Northern Ireland), and had a huge chance of moving to the next phase of the tournament. A victorious game planned for the 16 June could bring this dream closer to reality, but first they had to tackle the Germans.
Both the supporters and coaches counted on Robert Lewandowski’s good game, Kamil Grosicki’s rallies across the pitch, or the calm of Grzegorz Krychowiak. The only thing needed was a good defence. It was expected that the Germans would push the Poles to their own penalty area and, indeed, they succeeded to do so a few times in the final moments of the match. Just when it seemed that the ball would be safely passed to Thomas Mueller or one of his colleagues, Pazdan would appear, kicking the ball out, blocking, or retrieving. He was always there where the Germans were planning to pass. He repeated the deed a few days later in a match against Ukraine – he was even able to do so twice in a single action.
The supporters in Poland went mad. Barber shops offered “Pazdan” haircuts, and jokes appeared, some better, some worse, such as: “Why Pazdan has no friends on Facebook? Because he blocked them all.” Upon returning to Poland, he was greeted like a war hero, he was met at his town’s market and given a shield. It has to be admitted, however, that the footballer never sought to be in the limelight. He is not the type to be ever present in the social media and smile from every billboard. He dresses modestly. When the team was still under manager Beenhakker, he came to camp wearing a simple hoodie. The hotel staff could not believe that the young man at the reception desk was actually a member of the Polish national team. Pazdan prefers peace and quiet. When approached by journalists, he gives a sigh and rolls his eyes. Media do not attract him. He prefers to show his skills on the pitch – and in that, he succeeds.
During the European Cup, the Legia Warszawa centre back became one of the most important players in Adam Nawałka’s team, despite the fact that just a few months before he was in the reserve team. Throughout almost the entire qualifiers, it was Łukasz Szukała and Kamil Glik who played in that position. Szukała, however, first moved from Steaua Bucarest to the Saudi Al-Ittihad, and later Osmanlispor in Turkey where he stopped playing. He watched the European tournament on television, with Pazdan having taken over his place in the team – a chance he made full use of.
Those who know the Legia Warszawa defender well were not in the least bit surprised that he coped so well against the Germans. – Michał has what I would call “the sixth sense.” His physique may not be impressive but he is very fast and thinks with a speed of light when he’s on the pitch, able to predict the opponents’ next moves. Before his rival even makes a move, he already runs to where the ball is to land. This is what has always made him special, he was even better than the older players. I invited him to train with the seniors when he was still in the younger junior team. He made his debut at the age of 17 – said Robert Kasperczyk in an interview with Rzeczpospolita, who was Pazdan’s coach in Hutnik Krakow and is now a scout with Cracovia.
Pazdan learnt his trade on the pitches of Nowa Huta, however he was never seen as an incredible talent. Although there were some more talented than him, they never made such careers, as their priorities changed in the meantime – some fell for alcohol, those with a streak for brawling eventually got sucked into arranged hooligan fights, others still became gambling or drug addicts. Pazdan, however, has always been focused on football. He knew what he wanted, and had no problems at school.
Apparently, even when playing on the streets with his pals, he could be very unpleasant to his rivals. He was always picked as the first to a team since nobody wanted to have to fight against him in the game. Already then he had this trait that Leo Benhakker later called “the piranha.” The nickname stuck to him and is now recalled every time he makes his presence known on the pitch. In the Euro 2006 match against the Germans, Pazdan made sure that Mario Goetze did not have an easy time on the pitch – he would get to him even in the centre and would not let him go until he took the ball from him or the referee stopped the play.
The Dutch manager believed in the young player when he was just entering a serious football club – Górnik Zabrze. When he included the 21-year old footballer in his Euro 2008 team, many asked why. He had never played in junior national squads, he had not done anything exceptional, and played just a single season in the top league in Poland. Why take such a player to the European Cup? Years later, however, it turned out that the Dutchman was right, though Pazdan did not actually play a single minute in the tournament.
The managers who followed were not interested in Pazdan – until Adam Nawałka, who had worked with him in Górnik Zabrze and took the team back into Ekstraklasa. But even then, there were some doubts. After the first match, he was termed “Kung Fu Pazdan” as a result of the assault against an Irish player, for which he received a yellow card.
Pazdan has many nicknames. His pals in Nowa Huta called him “priest” – apparently because he was so calm. Guys from the team also called him Soga. I’ve no idea where that came from. There was once a very powerful dynasty in Japan under that name. Perhaps that was the origin – Kasperczyk told Rz.
Pazdan is strident in his play but not brutal. He evokes respect despite his modest physical conditions. Centre back is usually now occupied by tall players of some 190 cm in height. Pazdan is shorter, therefore he has to make up by using his other assets: he has to find his position, overtake, sometimes push the opponent to the side, know how to use his elbows. He’s universal. He began as defensive midfielder in the national team before Nawałka moved him to centre defence with Kamil Glik.
- Few people remember that Michał played left defence in Hutnik. It was not his favourite position but he managed. That helped him develop his left leg – coach Kasperczyk recalls.
He has achieved everything there was to achieve in the Polish league. He has won both the championship and the Cup of Poland, and has also played in the Champions League with Legia. No wonder then that he has been contemplating going abroad and trying his skills there. Ever since Euro 2016, on the occasion of every single transfer period, there is talk that he would soon sign a contract with a foreign team, but it never comes out that way. Besiktas Istambul seemed to be most determined but Pazdan (or actually his wife) were not eager to move to that part of the world. When the Turkish club pressed and the transfer was very near, Legia sold Igor Lewczuk to Girondins Bordeaux. Losing two of the team’s centre defence players was not an option and so Pazdan stayed on.
In the wintertime, the player himself did not want to move. Doing so half a year before the World Cup could mean trouble and missing out on the most important tournament of his life – that was the case with Jarosław Jach, for example, who moved to Crystal Palace from Zagłębie Lubin and sat on the bench. As a result, Adam Nawałka no longer saw him in the national squad.
There is talk now in the media about French clubs being interested in Pazdan. Has the time finally come for him to move abroad? If he plays a few good matches in Russia than there will be nothing blocking such a transfer anymore.
Author: Łukasz Majchrzyk