Friday 22 February 2019, 13:30

Blaszczykowski: Poland will welcome you with open arms

  • Jakub Blaszczykowski talks the U-20 World Cup

  • Poland international reflects on his record-breaking career

  • Winger also offers advice for both players and fans heading to Poland 2019

There are less than 100 days to go until the FIFA U-20 World Cup Poland 2019, and this Sunday Gdynia will play host to the group stage draw, with stars such as Bebeto and Fernando Couto in attendance.

As this special occasion nears, took the opportunity to talk to Jakub Blaszczykowski, who, with 105 international appearances, is Poland’s most capped player.

The veteran wishes his younger counterparts health and happiness, and also talks about his extraordinary journey with the Polish national team. For a lot of visitors, whether it be players, coaches or fans, it will be their first time in Poland. How would you describe your home country to them, what can they expect here? Jakub Blaszczykowski: We have a lot to offer, but first and foremost, we are blessed with people who are incredibly open, friendly and eager to help others. I’m convinced that Poland will welcome our guests with open arms and that they will feel right at home here. That famous Polish hospitality isn’t just all talk. However, I know from experience that the players themselves won’t have a great deal of time to get to know our country as all their focus will be on training sessions and matches. We have lots of things to showcase, though. You’ve got the coast, mountains, cities - each and every one has their own story to tell...

You live in Krakow, one of the most popular tourist destinations in Poland... Krakow is an exceptional place and, without a doubt, worth a visit. The city has history and a pulsating atmosphere that can be experienced 24 hours a day. However, I think locals from any other city could also think of a few nice words to say about their place of residence. Poland offers a lot in many different respects.

One of those taking part in the draw will be Bebeto, who is famous for giving the footballing world one very special goal celebration - the cradle. That was back in 1994, do you remember that World Cup? I was nine years old back then and that was the first World Cup I actually remember. I also recall Bebeto – he was a brilliant striker. Bulgaria also stick in my mind from that tournament, they had Hristo Stoichkov up front and he made a real impression back then. Going back to Bebeto and the cradle celebration, I don’t remember the specifics, but I’ve had the chance to do that celebration a couple of times during my career because, as you know, it’s become extremely popular ever since.

On Sunday, Poland will discover who their World Cup rivals will be. When Poland are involved in major tournaments such as this one, how do you approach tournament draws? Do you get nervous, do you look at who you want to avoid and who you want to get? Let me put it this way: I know for some players, coaches and fans that it’s a fun, exciting time. But I always stayed calm. There was no good worrying about something you had no control over. I just simply waited to see what the draw brought. What football has taught me is the opponent you think is going to be the toughest, sometimes tends to be the easiest to beat, and vice-versa. It doesn’t matter who you draw. At the end of the day, you have to go out onto the pitch and show you’re better, you’re able to score one goal more than your opponent.

Poland v Senegal: Group H - 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia

This is the U-20 World Cup and there will be a lot of emotions for the players representing their countries. How do you look back on your first steps with the Polish national team? You started at U-19 level... Yes, that’s right. For me, it was a great experience. Even though I was playing in the fifth tier, I managed to get a call-up to the U-19s. I was so excited. You also had Lukasz Piszczek, Lukasz Fabianski, Slawomir Peszko in that team... Unforgettable times.

Then you broke into the senior team. Were the emotions the same, because the national team is the national team, or were they completely different? They were still completely different. It was the amount of people watching you, if anything. Apart from that, any young lad who takes up football dreams of playing for the senior team. Even when you just play out on the street, you dream of wearing your country’s jersey. Realising that dream was just priceless. That’s why it’s difficult for me to pick a standout match. For me, every match was, is and will be special. Because every single one is part of my story, fragments of my footballing biography. Maybe when my career ends, that will be the time to choose a standout match; but I see playing for the national team as one big dream coming true.

No other Polish footballer has played as many matches as you for the national team - 105. If a young player came up to you and asked ‘Kuba, what’s the recipe, the secret, what do you need to do to play 105 times for your country’, what would you say? I would say, first of all, to be yourself. There is no formula to becoming an international footballer. Everyone has their own path, their own reference point. All of our bodies are different, all of our lives take different paths, lots of things happen which we don’t predict. There are so many elements that make up a player’s career, sometimes they are out of your control, things you don’t plan. My advice is this: belief in yourself and be humble. Don’t set your sights on records, think about the next training session, the next match. And then everything will come together.

105 matches for the national team, what’s next? Do you already have an idea when you will walk away? I don’t know, I have nothing planned because, like I said, sometimes life has other ideas. The most important thing for me, and this is my approach to the national team too, is the next training session, the next match. I don’t have a time frame; I haven’t decided on when I will step away. The national team is something exceptional, in my opinion. That’s how was it for my first match and that’s how it will be for my last match. When that time comes isn’t important...

Poland Portraits - 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia

In recent months, you’ve offered a great deal of help, financial help too, to Wisla Krakow who currently find themselves in an extremely difficult situation. Anyway, you have returned to Poland and are playing for the club again. The fans unveiled a banner dedicated to you during one of your matches as a thank you for the help you’ve given; you then went and scored the winning goal from the penalty spot. Was that a special moment? Very special and I would really like to thank the Wisla fans. It all worked out beautifully. You couldn’t have scripted it or even dreamt it would turn out so well. I decided to get involved and help Wisla because I felt I had to. What is happening to Wisla affects a lot of people, this club means a lot to very many. It’s not only over 100 years of history, there are so many people whose lives are intertwined with this club. It was and it still is very difficult at the club, but we are fighting so that every day gets easier and gives us more hope. There’s a lot of work ahead of us, but nobody intends to give up.

That penalty you took... You’ve taken a few in your time. Was that one of the hardest because of the circumstances? Every player knows that you’re not always going to score when you get a penalty. I know that too. It seems simple up until that moment when you’re standing in front of the goalkeeper. Also, keepers are stepping off their line all the time, looking at how they can save penalties. It’s not easy, but it’s great I managed to score. That goal must be one of the most incredible moments of my career, given the circumstances.

You’re not only helping Wisla, as you also do a lot of charity work and have your own foundation. Do you see that as a kind of responsibility? First of all, I don’t really like to talk about it. In my opinion, good deeds are best done discreetly. That’s how I see it. I think every one of us needs a helping hand now and then. It doesn’t always have to be material help, sometimes it can be just a bit of advice to help us on our way through life. Helping gives satisfaction, but it also gives happiness.

Let’s finish on the U-20 World Cup. What’s your message to the players who will be taking part in this tournament? Do you have any advice for them? My advice is this: approach it with a smile on your face so that you can just go and enjoy the tournament. Be charged with positive energy, so you approach every training session and every match in a positive way. When you look at life and a match with optimism, it makes things easier. Smile, go out onto the pitch and give your all. That’s my way of looking at it.