Lato hoping for golden future
© FIFA.com

Grzegorz Lato is a European footballing legend. The former Poland star was one of the continent’s leading strikers in the 1970s, and also made a name for himself on the world stage. He claimed gold with Poland at the 1972 Munich Olympics, before making three consecutive appearances at FIFA World Cup™ finals, leading his team to third place in both 1974 and 1982.

Lato earned a total of 100 full international caps between 1971 and 1984, scoring 45 goals, and also finished as leading scorer at the 1974 FIFA World Cup finals with seven goals. In short, his name is synonymous with the greatest era in Polish football. The 58-year-old, who was elected President of the Polish Football Association (PZPN) on 30 October 2008, is now hoping to usher in a new golden era for the game in his country.

On Tuesday 2 December 2008, Lato visited the Home of FIFA in Zurich for a meeting with FIFA President Joseph S. Blatter. Afterwards, he took time out for an interview with FIFA.com.

FIFA.com: Grzegorz Lato, what brings you to Home of FIFA today?
Grzegorz Lato: I’m here in my new role as President of the Polish FA. I was elected to the office just a few weeks ago, so obviously it was a good idea to pay the FIFA President a visit and exchange ideas with him. I also wanted to say a personal thank you for FIFA’s support in the recent past. Polish football has had to confront a few problems of late, but fortunately, we’ve now been able to solve them. I’d also like to thank [FIFA Director of International Relations] Jerome Champagne, who made democratic electoral procedures for the Polish association possible. Poland belongs to the FIFA family, and we feel very much part of the family.

What are your goals in your new role as association President?
Our initial priority is a much closer partnership with the sports ministry. We also need to bring our statutes into line with the FIFA statutes and eliminate all the inconsistencies. Dark episodes from the past, corruption for example, must finally be consigned to the dustbin of history.

Poland are currently third in their qualifying group for the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa. How would you rate the team’s chances of securing one of the sought-after places at the finals?

We’re fighting with everything we’ve got to seal a place at the 2010 finals. Our last game back in November, where we led 1-0 in Slovakia but fell to a 2-1 defeat, was obviously a grave setback. We have two vital fixtures next spring, and we want to take six points from those games. It’ll finally be sorted out in a difficult autumn programme, especially our trip to the Czech Republic. I hope we end up achieving our goal. Coach Leo Beenhakker and all of us at the Polish FA are doing everything we can to support the team as they attempt to qualify for the 2010 finals.

You enjoyed a long and successful playing career. Your finished leading scorer at the 1974 FIFA World Cup. What are your memories of that time?
It’s a hell of a long time ago (laughs)! But I think I made my mark in the annals of world football. I made 100 international appearances for Poland, I won a gold and a silver at the Olympics, and I took part in three World Cup finals. I have any number of memories of the past, and I’m extremely proud of them.

Do you think Polish football will ever again produce a player of your class, and with a similar record of success?
We have a clutch of very talented youngsters, and we’re deliberately focusing a lot of support on youth development. That’s why I too welcome FIFA’s planned "6+5" rule. This would be very useful in helping to bring on young Polish footballers, as they’d be appearing more often for their clubs and would gain valuable experience. Obviously, we’re hoping to unveil the new Grzegorz Lato, Kazimierz Deyna or Andrzej Szarmach one day – although we definitely won’t resort to cloning (laughs).