The history of Polish contributions to the Bundesliga

The marquee match of Group D’s Euro 2016 qualifiers takes place in Warsaw Saturday evening as Germany travel across their eastern border to play Poland. Germany are unbeaten in all 18 previous matches against Poland, holding a record of 12-6-0 in those matches. The last time the two met in a competitive match was in the EURO 2008 group stage where Germany, on the back of a Lukas Podolski brace, were 2-0 winners. The sides have met twice since in friendlies with both contests ending in draws.

Only Luxembourg and the Czech Republic, of the nations that border Germany, have faced the current world champion fewer than has Poland. Luxembourg however do hold some bragging rights from their 13 battles with the neighbors, as they have actually beaten Germany once, while Poland still awaits their chance to say they’ve accomplished the same.

The relative dearth of matches these nations have played against each other matters little, however, when we talk in terms of Polish born players plying their footballing trade in the Bundesliga. Since the league’s inception in 1963, no fewer than 91 Polish-born players (i.e. players eligible to play for Poland and NOT Germany) have played at least one match in Germany’s top flight.

Something that does stand out about the Polish footballing diaspora is these players, with a few exceptions, started making their move west only after the Berlin Wall came down, which of course would make a lot of sense when you consider the history. It would be interesting to know if the trend held true for the other former Eastern Bloc countries, but that is a discussion for another day, perhaps over pints or tea with Jonathan Wilson.

So why not take a look back at some of the more interesting and memorable Polish imports to the Bundesliga and briefly examine their impact on the German domestic game.

Andrzej Buncol – midfielder – appearances: 185, goals: 21

FC Homberg (1986-87), Bayer Leverkusen (1987-92), Fortuna Düsseldorf (1992-97)

After playing four seasons in Poland for Legia Warsaw, midfielder Andrzej Buncol made the move to the Bundesliga joining newly promoted FC Homberg in the 1986-87 season. In his one and only season with Homburg, Buncol played in 30 matches and scored 5 times before making an off-season move to Bayer Leverkusen. Buncol would spend the majority of his career with Bayer making 123 appearances and scoring 14 times. He left the club after 5 seasons to join Fortuna Düsseldorf, then playing in the 2. Bundesliga, in 1992. After 2 seasons in Germany’s 2nd flight, Buncol and Fortuna earned promotion after the 1994-95 season and stayed there two more seasons until his retirement in 1997, coinciding with Fortuna’s relegation at the end of the season.

For Poland, Buncol’s career spanned six years, during which time he earned 51 caps and scored 6 goals. He was also part of the Poland side that finished third at the 1982 World Cup in Spain and got on the score sheet in a 5-1 rout of Peru in the first group stage.

Marek Leśniak – striker – appearances: 213, goals: 42

Bayer Leverkusen (1988-92), SC Wattenscheid (1992-94), KFC Uerdingen (1995-96), 1860 München (1996)

Leśniak began his career in Poland playing for Pogoń Szczecin before making the move to Bayer Leverkusen in 1988 where he joined up with fellow Pole Andrzej Buncol. In 117 appearances for die Werksel, Leśniak scored 19 times before leaving in 1992 (at the same time as Buncol) for SC Wattenscheid; his stay there lasted three seasons in which he made 96 appearances and scored 25 goals, although his final season there was spent in the second division when Wattenscheid were relegated in 1994.

After that, Leśniak had two brief Bundesliga spells with KFC Uerdingen and 1860 München before climbing down the German football ladder with stops at Fortuna Düsseldorf, Preußen Münster, and SSVg Velbert (where he was a player manager), before ending his career in 2007 with Ratingen 04/19 of the Oberliga Niederrhein. After all was said and done Leśniak’s German career lasted nearly two decades spread across six different divisions.

Jan Furtok – Striker – total appearances: 187, goals: 59

Hamburger SV (1988-93), Eintracht Frankfurt (1993-95) 

Having already attained legendary status for this hometown club GKS Katowice, Jan Furtok joined Hamburg for the 1988-89 season. In five full seasons with the club, Furtok solidly established himself as a fan favourite amongst that Hamburg faithful having scored 54 times in 144 total appearances, highlighted by a 20-goal season in 1990-91 which stood as the record for most goals scored in a Bundesliga season by a Pole until a guy by the name of Robert Lewandowski bettered it by two goals this past season. After Hamburg, Furtok moved to Eintracht Frankfurt where he played for two seasons, appearing 58 times and scoring a very respectable 14 goals.

For Poland, Furtok won 36 caps, scored ten times, and was a member of Poland’s 1986 World Cup squad. He is perhaps best known for a goal he scored in the qualifiers for World Cup 1994. With Poland mired in a scoreless draw at home to minnows San Marino, Furtok latched on to the end of a cross and steered the ball into the back of the net. Replays showed Furtok actually scored with his hand, but the protestations of the Sammarinese players fell on deaf ears and the goal counted. Poland were spared some blushes, but it meant little as they failed to qualify for the tournament.

Bartosz Bosacki – defender – appearances: 17, goals: 0, red cards: 1

FC Nürnberg (2004-06) 

A bit of a strange addition on this list considering Bartosz Bosacki played 1 and a half rather unremarkable seasons for der Club with his final contribution being a 90th minute red card on the 15th match day of the 2005-06 season. He was promptly transferred back to his hometown club Lech Poznan in the January transfer window. However, his greatest international achievement did occur on German soil, so I felt his inclusion was justified.

Bosacki earned 20 caps for Poland and scored twice. Both of those goals came as a consolation in the final group-stage match versus Costa Rica in Hannover. His brace guided Poland to not only their sole victory, but also stood as the only goals Poland would score at the tournament.

Janusz Góra – sweeper – appearances: 25, goals: 4

SSV Ulm 1846 (1999-2000) 

Janusz Góra’s 25 Bundesliga appearances for Ulm is rather misleading. The Pole spent the majority of his playing career in Germany, albeit at the lower levels with Stuttgarter Kickers in both the 2. Bundesliga and the Regionalliga Süd, with FC Augsburg in the Regionalliga Süd and the Oberliga Bayern, and with SSV Ulm in the 2. Bundesliga, Oberliga Baden-Württemberg, and the Regionalliga Süd. In total, Góra made 376 appearances in German football scoring 44 times. He continued his relationship with Ulm in a post-playing career as a member of the coaching staff from 2005 -10.

For all of his dedication to German football, Góra is probably best known for an incident that followed a match versus Hansa Rostock in September of 1999. With the score at 1-0 to Rostock and his side having had three players sent off already, Góra scored in the 77th minute to make the match all square. After Rostock had pulled ahead in the 90th minute, Ulm received their 4th red card of the match. After the match Góra was beside himself, audibly screaming “Skandal” directed at match official Herbert Fandel.

Jacek Krzynówek – midfielder – appearances 177, goals 24

FC Nürnberg (2001-03), Bayern Leverkusen (2004-06), VfL Wolfsburg (2006-09), Hannover 96 (2009-10)

Aside from a pair of seasons playing with Nürnberg in the 2. Bundesliga, Jacek Krzynówek’s career in Germany was played at the highest level. He possessed one hell of a left foot – his 24 Bundesliga goals were a testament to that fact -and was looked upon as a dead ball specialist. This goal, an absolute belter vs Real Madrid in the 2004-05 Champions League group stage, can probably be viewed as the pinnacle of his time in Germany. He was also nearly a Bundesliga title winner while playing for Wolfsburg, but was transferred to Hannover in the winter window during Die Wölfe’s title winning campaign.

Krzynówek’s international career was also one of near-milestone misses, having been capped 96 times while scoring 15 times for Poland. The highlight of his international playing days was this goal in the late stages of a EURO 2008 qualifying match versus Portugal, another rocket off his rather famous left peg.

Tomasz Hajto – defender – appearances: 201, goals: 14, red cards 4

MSV Duisburg (1997-2000), Schalke 04 (2000-04), FC Nürnberg (2004-05)

Tomasz Hajto spent his entire Germany career playing in the Bundesliga, starting in Duisburg and finishing in Nürnberg, but he is probably most well-known for his time in Gelsenkirchen playing for Schalke 04. Hajto won the DFB Pokal twice with Die Königsblauen and was a member of the side that came to be affectionately known as the Meister der Herzen, who, for about ten minutes, looked to be Bundesliga champion only to have the rug pulled out from under them by FC Bayern. Trust me on this it is worth looking up.

Hajto was capped 62 times for Poland, scoring on six occasions. The highlight of his international duties came in the 2002 World Cup where he appeared in Poland’s first two group stage matches (both losses) before being dropped for the 3rd, a 3-1 win over the United States.

Tomasz Wałdoch – defender – appearances: 249, goals: 18

VfL Bochum 1994-95 & 1996-99, Schalke 04 1999-06

Like his namesake Hajto, Tomaz Wałdoch’s most memorable seasons in Germany came with Schalke, having been transferred in 1999 after Bochum’s relegation to the 2. Bundesliga. Much like Hajto, Wałdoch won two DFB Pokal titles with Schalke and was the captain of the aforementioned Meister der Herzen. In 2006 he retired from professional football but has remained in the Schalke family as a coach at various youth levels. He is currently an assistant coach for Schalke II playing in the Regionalliga West. Clearly old Tomasz is becoming part of the furniture over there in Gelsenkirchen.

For Poland, Wałdoch was capped 81 times and chipped in with a pair of goals; he also captained the side on a number of occasions in his career. To continue the parallels with Tomasz Hajto, Wałdoch was also a part of Poland’s World Cup squad in Korea/Japan and took part in all three group-stage matches, albeit coming on as a late sub in the final match versus the United States.

If you would like to check out more about the Bundesliga’s Polish players both current and past I suggest you check out this video posted on the Bundesliga’s English YouTube page.

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Born in Toronto, Adrian is a first generation Canadian by way of Bavaria and the Black Forest. After some intense football soul searching he's now a fully fledged member of the Church of Streich. Follow @AdrianSertl

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