When Jakub Blaszczykowski signed for Borussia Dortmund from Wisla Krakow back in July 2007, Zbigniew Boniek, the only Pole named in Pele's FIFA 100 list of the 125 greatest living footballers, was asked to give his views on the 21-year-old. The Juventus legend, who helped his country finish third at the 1982 FIFA World Cup Spain™, offered just two words: "Little Figo".
It has since become clear that Boniek was by no means exaggerating. 'Kuba', as Blaszczykowski is affectionately known, has enjoyed a highly successful five years with the reigning Bundesliga champions and risen to become the captain of the Polish national side.
"It's a great honour for me to be described in such a way by Zbigniew Boniek," Blaszczykowski told FIFA.com. "I like to run at players one-on-one, so perhaps that's why he chose the comparison with Figo."
Blaszczykowski has developed into one of the leading lights in Polish football – and not only because of his fondness for taking players on, as the attacking midfielder modestly suggests. 'Kuba' soon showed an eye for goal in the Bundesliga and also emerged as a top creator. Furthermore, his hard work and commitment on the field, both at club and international level, make the two-time Polish Footballer of the Year the ideal candidate to skipper his country heading into UEFA EURO 2012 on home turf.
"Obviously I'm very proud and happy about my role as captain of the national team," said Blaszczykowski. "For me it's a dream come true. On the other hand, there's a lot of pressure on my shoulders, but that's part of being a leader. I hope I can continue to convince in the role in the future."
We'll only succeed as a team, not as individuals. As a team we can compete with the very best.
The continental showdown in Poland and Ukraine will be Blaszczykowski's first major international tournament after he was overlooked for Germany 2006 and missed EURO 2008 through injury.
"It wasn't an easy time," he remembered. "Shortly before the tournament I suffered a muscle tear. I hoped to the very end that I would make it in time for the EURO. Now I'm hoping to stay healthy and have a good tournament as captain. At the moment things are looking good, but anything can happen in football."
Indeed, just a few months ago Blaszczykowski came in for considerable criticism in the Polish media due to a lack of playing time at Dortmund. A winter transfer was not ruled out, but things soon changed for the 5ft 9ins winger.
A serious pelvic injury to Dortmund starlet Mario Gotze prompted coach Jurgen Klopp to reinstate Blaszczykowski on the right side of midfield. Needless to say, the experienced Pole has more than repaid his coach's trust, scoring two goals and setting up another three in his last five Bundesliga outings.
"I've actually been in that kind of form for a few months now," he told FIFA.com. "In the national team I've scored four goals in five games and created another three. Things are going well at club level now too, but that's my character. If I'm not playing, I try even harder in training. Now I've got the confidence and I want to keep up my level of performance until the EURO."
Blaszczykowski, who constitutes one third of a Polish trio at Dortmund along with fellow internationals Robert Lewandowski and Lukasz Piszczek, is confident Die Borussen can defend their domestic title: "I think we've had a great season so far, even if we didn't do so well in the Champions League. If we carry on as we have been, we'll be challenging for the title and the DFB-Pokal. We have the quality to win the league again."
Blaszczykowski is also looking beyond the end of the current campaign and towards EURO 2008. So, can he emulate the success of Figo, who reached the final of the 2004 edition with hosts Portugal only to lose to Greece in one of the biggest upsets in the tournament's history?
"The draw was certainly kind to us," concluded 'Kuba' on Poland's chances. "We're in the most even group. I'd say every team has a 25 per cent chance of going through to the next round. If we can survive the group stage, anything is possible.
"We'll only succeed as a team, though, not as individuals. As a team we can compete with the very best, we've already proven that. Now we need to turn the pressure into positive energy."