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Flying the flag: Exploring the Spaniards in Ekstraklasa

It appears to have gone under the radar, but an increasing number of Spanish players have switched their homeland for pastures new in Poland. Here, FTF ask the experts on their thoughts as to why this shift is occurring.

If we look at some basic statistics from the 2020/21 Ekstraklasa, it becomes apparent that the Spanish contingent is substantial.

Jesús Jiménez and Jesús Imaz are two of just eight players in the Polish top flight to break into double figures with their goal tallies. Four Spaniards surpassed nine goals and assists.

For readers who appreciate obscure 2000s Premier League players, veteran Czech forward Tomáš Pekhart, ex-Spurs, ran away with the Polish equivalent of the Golden Boot.

Often, Eastern European sides stick to homegrown or shop in bordering countries. However, in the Polish Ekstraklasa, Spaniards make up 8.7% of squad players across the league. Spain is the third most represented country in the division with 15 Spaniards. Furthermore, the only nationality more prominent, besides Poland of course, is neighbouring Slovakia.

First Time Finish spoke to David Cohen, a football analyst and writer, about Ekstraklasa’s finances and his thoughts on this unlikely trend.

Why Spain?

‘The Ekstraklasa is a weird one. There is such a difference in quality from top to bottom. For the lower clubs to compete, they need to find a market to get good players on comparatively low wages.’

‘Almost all of the Spaniards moving over were playing third/fourth division football, either in B teams or at smaller clubs. I’m not entirely sure on wages but I presume they are not the highest,’ explained Cohen.

‘The smaller Ekstraklasa clubs have a wage output similar to League 2 in England, to put it into perspective.’

Cohen admits that it’s difficult to pinpoint reasons but theorises that, financially, it’s a safe bet.

‘My theory is the Spanish market represents good value in terms of quality of player you get and the wage output.’

Attacking talent

It is important to note that nine of the 15 Spaniards in the division play in attacking roles (i.e. centre forward, winger or attacking midfield positions). These players also rank very highly in a number of metrics.

Jesús Jiménez at mid-table Górnik Zabrze, arrived from Spanish third-tier side CF Talavera on a free transfer in 2018. Joining in his mid-twenties as a winger, the Madrid-born forward contributed five goals and seven assists in his first campaign. Now a striker, he has netted 24 in his last two seasons.

Winger Ivi, who plays for Raków Częstochowa, racked up 14 goal involvements in 26 games. This helped his side finish as runners-up in the league in only their second consecutive top-flight campaign.

He also scored late on to equalise against Arka Gdynia in the Polish Cup final – a game they later went on to win. This was their first ever Polish Cup triumph. So the Spaniards in Poland are making history.

Best of the rest

Jesús Imaz also ranked highly for key passes with 0.82 per 90. The attackers aren’t alone with full-back Ángel García boasting a 66% dribble success rate. Additionally, Śląsk Wrocław’s Israel Puerto is in the top five percentile for aerial duels with a 68.1% success rate.

So it seems there is quality in the defensive third too. As a result, Spaniards rank highly in a number of metrics.

Wisła Kraków midfielder Chuca put up a 87.56% pass success rate. Lech Poznań’s Dani Ramírez ranks highly for deep completions with 1.83 per 90 – just above highly-rated Brighton loanee Jakub Moder.

The statistics show that the Spaniards are tearing up the Polish top flight. It seems like a win-win situation with all parties happy.

FTF spoke to Polish football writer Christopher Lash about the trend. He explains how the technical ability deep-seated in Spanish football from a young age makes it appetising to Polish scouts.

‘Technically gifted’

‘There is a lot of depth in the Spanish leagues so the players who play in the Segunda B are technically gifted. The wages in Poland are far better than that level.’

‘Spanish players get to play in a top flight and get the chance to move somewhere else if scouts like what they see.’

He also highlighted the lack of quality emerging from most Polish academies. This, hand-in-hand with Spain’s fertile breeding ground, creates this situation.

‘Academies in Poland are not of that high standard, apart from a few (Lech Poznań, Pogoń Szczecin). It’s also expensive to purchase players between Polish clubs. It’s cheaper to buy these players rather than develop their own academy players.’

Will it continue?

It seems as if the main reasons behind this unorthodox trend are pretty simple. Poland’s academies aren’t producing much talent.

According to Transfermarkt, almost half of Ekstraklasa’s 16 teams have 10 or more academy graduates in their senior squad.

David Cohen wrote a piece in December 2020 on Raków Częstochowa, highlighting their recruitment. Shrewd business is commonplace at the club and this is emulated across the league.

The largest fee paid for a player by an Ekstraklasa club in 2020/21 was £720,000. This was for the signature of Michal Frydrych who joined Wisla Kraków from Slavia Prague in September 2020.

Spain’s reputation for producing technically-gifted stars lives on and this certainly appeals to savvy clubs across Europe. Scouring the depths of Spain’s Segunda División and its B league is bound to unearth some gems. Many have been let go by more successful sides owing to competition.

It seems like a no-brainer to scout these leagues and put together an exciting, technically-gifted squad. It’s a plan that can be, and is being, implemented by every side from perennial victors Legia Warsaw to strugglers Wisła Płock.

And, importantly to spectators, it’s undeniably a plan that is already proving to be exciting.

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