Arkadiusz Milik’s emergence adds to Poland’s attack

Ireland’s defence will have to watch out for 21-year-old striker during Aviva clash

He scored twice again last Saturday, Robert Lewandowski. Bayern Munich may have been 2-0 ahead at Werder Bremen, and on the way to Bayern's sixth consecutive Bundesliga victory when Lewandowski scored, but his contribution in his first season with Munich has hardly been irrelevant. Lewandowski has 16 club goals so far. There are reasons for Irish eyes to be on him.

Arkadiusz "Arek" Milik also scored two last weekend. This is the young man faced with the rather daunting proposition he is the next Robert Lewandowski. Or the next Wlodzimierz Lubanski. Milik, 21 three weeks ago, plays for Ajax.

Up front

There are reasons for Irish eyes to be on him, too, because whether Milik is the next Lewandowski or next Lubankski – or not – he will be up front beside Lewandowski at the Aviva Stadium next Sunday.

In less than a year, Milik has gone from next big thing to next big disappointment to a household name.


Excitement does not equal quality but in scoring the opening goal for Poland against Germany in Warsaw last October, Milik erased the doubts that surrounded his sporting disappearance at Bayer Leverkusen and wrote his name across the pages of Polish football history.

This was the first time in 19 meetings that Poland had beaten Germany. And in Poland they like to joke that while everyone hates the Germans, they hate them even more than Monty Python do.

Milik and his manager, Adam Nawalka, became national figures, heroes.

National job

Theirs is a relationship that goes back to Gornik Zabrze, where Nawalka was manager before taking the national job. Milik was a 17 year-old in Poland’s third division when Gornik Zabrze bought him. Nawalka gave him his top-flight debut and then his national debut.It reflects rising expectation of a 6ft 1in forward who has overcome some turbulence and who is now viewed as wholly progressive.

From an impoverished background in Tychy, near Krakow, Arek Milik’s real father vanished from the scene when the Milik was a boy. He was fortunate to fall under the influence of a local coach who nurtured his talent until passing him onto Nawalka at Zabrze.

It was not all smooth from there, though. While Nawalka talked up his teenage striker, fans watched as Milik went 17 games without scoring. “Where’s your new Lubanski?” was the catcall.

That was in 2011, but then in game 18 Milik scored twice and by 2012 scouts from across Europe were turning up. Lewandowski had paved a path to Germany and Bayer Leverkusen offered Milik the same route. AC Milan, Juventus – and Tottenham – would miss out.

Bizarrely there was a trial at Reading before all of this and in time Reading may feel that their loss was greatest. But then, while Milik exhibited talent, he did not have the necessary frame or professional wherewithal to make it in the Bundesliga, never mind in the push-and-pull world the English Championship can be sometimes.

After a handful of underwhelming appearances Leverkusen's manager, Sami Hyypia, sent Milik on loan to Augsburg. He played a bit more there but was no sensation and in Poland they observed these developments with increasing dismay.

Last May, with Wolves now interested while the Italian giants backed away, Leverkusen offered Milik to Ajax. The deal was initially a loan but Ajax have first refusal on a €2.6 million transfer and are to take that option.

Poor planning

If that sounds like poor planning by the Germans, their theory was that they play one up front –

Stefan Kiessling

– and they do not have the time to wait for Milik to develop. Theirs was a punt.

At Ajax, things are different. In reduced circumstances, Ajax’s business model is now to find players cheaply, polish and sell. Milik fits their blueprint.

Training every day with Dennis Bergkamp, Milik's right foot has improved over the past 10 months. Bergkamp has described the young Pole's left as "unique".

Such has been Milik's progress there have been comparisons – premature to be sure – with another former Ajax young striker, Zlatan Ibrahimovic. But an historic goal against the world champions hardly dampens speculation and Milik followed it with the 2-2 equalizer against Scotland and one against Georgia.

His profile now means that Milik’s next move is on the agenda even before he has completed this one.

"Only in about two or three years will I reach the level to play in Spain or England, " Milik said last month. "Now I want to stay here. For a young footballer, there is no better school than Ajax."

He is, as he says, a work in progress, and there was no decisive goal for Ajax in the Europa League on Thursday night. So Irish defenders will note Milik can be shackled. That leaves Lewandowski.

Sunderland’s managerial turmoil

Martin O'Neill has other things on his mind – such as Milik and Lewandowski – but one wonders what he thought when he heard of Gus Poyet's departure from Sunderland and the news that Dick Advocaat would be the new man at the Stadium of Light.

This weekend two years ago, O'Neill was Sunderland manager. One week later he wasn't, an own goal by Titus Bramble against Manchester United prompting an intervention from the Sunderland boardroom.

Many on Wearside had lost the eagerness of their faith in O’Neill by then, though many others continue to argue that he would have kept Sunderland up and would have brought some continuity to the panicking club.

But chairman-owner Ellis Short ejected O'Neill, splurged on Paolo Di Canio then regretted it as Poyet was appointed. Poyet did well initially – just as O'Neill had and Roy Keane and Steve Bruce before him – but then the steam ran out. Sound familiar?

Poyet may be an idiosyncratic individual but he can coach. His team last season had shape, vitality and determination. It also had Ki Sung-Yeung, Jack Colback, Fabio Borini and Marcos Alonso, a quartet Sunderland did not retain.

There is a disconnection at Sunderland and Poyet recognised this when he said last April that there is “something wrong at the football club”.

That felt accurate then and it feels accurate today. The good work Poyet did has been trashed this week. On last season's evidence he does not deserve that. And now Sunderland have wee Dick, a man routinely beaten by O'Neill when Advocaat was at Rangers and O'Neill at Celtic.

That was more than a decade ago and was Advocaat’s only experience of British football. Which may well be what O’Neill was thinking when he heard the news on Monday.