Hertha Berlin’s signing of attacking midfielder Ondrej Duda for approximately 5 million Euros seems like a shrewd bit of business for the Bundesliga club. It’s also certainly a sale that will please the majority of Legia Warsaw fans as the money will allow the club to finally bring in a number of new players to replace someone whose head has been elsewhere for the last season or so.
Duda exploded onto the scene at Legia when he signed from MFK Košice for the small fee of €300,000 in February 2014. In the spring round of games at Legia he immediately showed off the abilities which he would become known for, technical skill, quick feet, good balance and the capacity to both score and assist. As Legia went on to lift the Polish title, Duda scored three goals and quickly became a key member of the team.
Duda will most fondly be remembered by Legia fans for his performances in two Champions League Qualifying matches vs Celtic in the summer of 2014. Legia, under the management of Henning Berg and playing what amounted to a 4-2-4 formation with two deep lying midfielders and four interchanging attacking midfielders, tore Celtic apart. Duda was an integral part of the attacking flair of this Legia Warsaw side and, despite the administrative mistake that eventually saw Celtic go through in the tie, the pure excitement of Duda’s performances in those games will long live in the memory.
Legia had a relatively mixed 2014-5 season – winning the Polish cup but missing out on the Polish championship to their rivals Lech Poznań – but, at least until Christmas, it was Duda’s strongest one with the side from the Polish capital. Duda scored eight goals over the season (seven before the winter break), including three in European cup competitions for Legia as they made the last 32 of the Europa League.
It’s quite possible that at this point Duda’s head started to be turned by potential offers from stronger European clubs. From the spring of 2015 a host of large clubs – including Inter Milan, Arsenal and Tottenham were consistently said to be interested in his signature. Indeed it seemed quite likely that Duda would make the move to Inter Milan in the summer of 2015, however this in the end didn’t happen.
The 2015-6 season was in many ways a disappointment for Duda. He didn’t seem to fit into the system of Legia’s new manager Stanislav Cherchesov, someone who required constant work-rate and wasn’t as forgiving as Henning Berg had been towards Legia’s flair-players. In addition Duda missed playing alongside the intelligent attacking midfielder Miroslav Radovic who had left in February 2015. Although there were flashes of brilliance from Duda he at times simply did not look like he wanted to be at Legia anymore.
In many ways the feeling was mutual with Legia seeing in Duda a cash-cow that could be milked in order to make other acquisitions. In this regard Duda’s goal for Slovakia against Wales at Euro 2016 was applauded by many Legia supporters as it meant a considerable increase in any future transfer deal.
Ondrej Duda is a very talented young player who, when on form, can light up a match. Certainly in the Polish Ekstraklasa, a league not renowned for its technical ability, his skills, awareness and anticipation, stood out – at times quite dramatically. It’s been clear for a while that Duda has needed a new challenge – and the one in front of him at Hertha is definitely exciting. I’m sure most Legia Warsaw fans will join me in wishing him good luck in his future career.