Ludovic Obraniak has a useful habit of being in just the right place at the right time. Be it by grabbing a tremendous winning goal for his club in the last minute of the French Cup final, or by scoring twice for his country on his debut, the 26-year-old attacking midfielder’s sense of timing has endeared him to fans of Lille and Poland alike.
Having become a father for the first time a few days ago, Obraniak is now firmly settled in Lille. Yet things could have turned out quite differently for the Metz youth academy graduate, who made the move to northern France in 2007. Unable to establish himself in the starting XI, he was tempted to take his talents elsewhere last summer.
“I had a few options last year that might have come to something. But with the benefit of hindsight, I know I made the right choice to stay,” the Franco-Polish midfielder told FIFA.com. “If I’d left Lille after a good few years there, only to watch from afar as they won the double and played in the Champions League, there’s no doubt I would have regretted it."
Strength in numbers
Obraniak’s decision to stay put, and play an important role in Les Dogues’ fantastic season, came down to the man-management skills of coach Rudi Garcia, who, despite sticking closely to the same starting line-up, was able to instil a healthy rivalry between his substitutes and his first-team regulars.
“The guys on the bench dealt with the situation in a mature way. We tried to do our bit for the team any time we had the chance. Everyone pulled his weight – that’s what makes for a good team,” says the left-footed Poland international, who still managed to take part in 26 league matches this season. “It’s been a season full of paradoxes,” he adds. “It’s probably the year in which I’ve played the least football, but it’s also been the most successful for me.”
His personal highlights came at the tail end of the campaign. First, there was his outstanding last-gasp free kick versus Paris Saint-Germain that secured the Coupe de France for Lille, in a match that had seen him come off the bench just ten minutes earlier. Obraniak displayed his desire to leave his imprint on the history of the club the following week, when his goal in the 2-2 league draw with PSG – again – helped win the point the team needed to joyously claim the French title for the first time in 57 years.
A matter of days after picking up his league-winner’s medal, Obraniak is now preparing to take his domestic form into the international arena, when Poland, the country of his roots, welcome France, the nation in which he was born, bred and learned his trade. The match, a friendly encounter, is sure to be an emotional occasion for Obraniak, but he is quick to downplay its significance to him personally.
“I really want to win, mainly because it’s a great test for us with a year to go before we host the European Championships. But it’s not really about me; it’s about the entire team and all the Polish fans watching."
It was those same fans that immediately accepted him as one of their own during his international debut in August 2009. Drawing 0-0 in a friendly with Greece, on came Obraniak at half-time. The Lille player’s two clinical finishes during the second half secured a solid victory for Poland. “In the eyes of the players, backroom staff and supporters, my credibility went through the roof!” he laughed.
It was a pivotal moment for a man who had never visited the land of his ancestors before. “It wasn’t just my first game, it was also the first time I’d set foot on Polish soil,” explained Obraniak.
“At first, things were a bit difficult, because I was this Frenchman who’d come out of nowhere, and I didn’t even speak the language. I was a little bit embarrassed; I didn’t feel like I had any right to be there. I kept a low profile and patiently waited for the match to come around. When I came on and got a couple of goals, it really helped me feel like a proper part of the team."
Since then, Poland has become a second home for Obraniak, who now looks forward to meeting up with his international team-mates before warm-up matches for UEFA EURO 2012, a tournament for which his country and Ukraine have automatically qualified as joint hosts.
“It’s a fantastic adventure for me as a footballer and as a person,” he explains. “It’s another culture, another way of looking at things, and another style of play. On top of that, Poland is a great footballing nation.”
The time will soon be ripe for Poland to take centre stage, and judging by his track record, Obraniak could again be in the right place at the right time next summer.