Monday 27 February 2023, 20:45

Marcin Oleksy honoured for sublime technique and unbreakable spirit

  • Marcin Oleksy wins the FIFA Puskás Award

  • The Polish forward plays amputee football after losing his left leg

  • His acrobatic scissor kick beat goals from fellow finalists Richarlison and Dimitri Payet

He is Polish. He plays as a forward. He scores goals. Lots of goals – and some of them are spectacular. Today, he is taking centre stage as a prize winner at The Best FIFA Football Awards. Before you jump to any conclusions, however, we should clarify that we are not talking here about Robert Lewandowski, The Best FIFA Men's Player in both 2020 and 2021. Instead, the spotlight now falls on his compatriot Marcin Oleksy.

Like Lewandowski, Oleksy joins the prestigious club of players to have been honoured by the world football community. And, again like Lewandowski, he has earned distinction thanks to his goals – and one goal in particular, the effort he scored on 6 November 2022 that has won him the FIFA Puskás Award, which recognises the most spectacular strike of the year.

Here too, appearances threatened to prove deceptive, because Carli Lloyd and Alessandro Del Piero handed the trophy to an amputee who approached the stage on crutches. But this was none other than the goalscorer himself, Oleksy having overcome his disability to launch himself into the air and score with an exceptional scissor kick for Warta Poznan against Stal Rzeszow in the PZU Amp Futbol Ekstraklasa.

Joy and pride

Picked out by a cross from the right, Oleksy relied on his instinct, agility and technique to pull off a perfect strike, defying gravity in a moment of magic to send the ball flying into the net. It was a goal that quickly went viral and caught the eye of football connoisseurs around the globe – including Lewandowski, who shared the video on social media and encouraged fans to vote for his fellow countryman.

"My team-mate Dawid Novak played the pass," Oleksy told FIFA+ a few days after being nominated for the Puskás Award. "When I saw the ball coming, I knew I'd be the first to it. I connected really cleanly. It was perfect. When I hit it, I watched the ball all the way and saw it go into the corner of the net. I'd always wanted to score a beautiful goal. You could see the pride on my face after I scored. I stood up tall, I stuck out my chest. I was just so happy."

Joy and pride. Two completely natural reactions given the challenges Oleksy had to overcome before his moment of glory. Indeed, if he used to dream of one day winning a major individual honour, it surely would have been The Best FIFA Men's Goalkeeper Award. That was the position he used to play before a terrible twist of fate ended those hopes.

Motivation and determination

While employed as a road worker, Oleksy fell victim to a serious accident in which a machine fell on his legs, forcing doctors to amputate the lower part of his left leg. Only 23 at the time, he could have given up hope that football would ever be part of his life again. Instead, he faced the situation with unshakeable optimism, born from seeing the stomach of his pregnant wife while still in his hospital bed. He was happy just to still be alive.

"I'd always dreamt that when I had a son, I'd be able to play football with him," he explained in an interview with ESPN. "So, when I got a sports prosthetic, I took him to the football pitch and we started playing, and I felt like I wanted to go back there again."

Oleksy began his return as a goalkeeping coach at youth level, before discovering amputee football with Warta Poznan. "After the first training session," he said, "I knew I wanted to stay and play football again." Now, nine years later, he still works in construction when he is not starring as an outfield player in the amputee game, which features teams of seven players on indoor or outdoor pitches measuring 60m x 40m. Oleksy's ability even earned him a place in Poland's team at the 2022 Amputee Football World Cup, where they reached the last 16 before losing 2-1 to Brazil.

Today, thanks to his perseverance and his combativeness – not to mention his talent – the 36-year-old can pride himself on joining the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo, Neymar, Mohamed Salah and Zlatan Ibrahimovic on the list of FIFA Puskás Award winners.

Marcin Oleksy on stage after winning the FIFA Puskas Award

The reaction of Marcin Oleksy

"It’s been difficult for me to even dream about an award like this. I am standing before you today receiving the award for the best goal in the world. I am dedicating this award to Ewelina, Tomek, Tosia – because it was thanks to them that I was able to pick myself up after the accident and am here now, and can score such beautiful goals. "I also want to thank the entire football community because someone has created this beautiful sport that makes it possible for us to find fulfilment. Thank you very much!"