Outlook positive for Poland's Obraniak
© AFP

When Ludovic Obraniak packed up his things and left Lille for Bordeaux in January, he was not just moving to a warmer climate. After five and a half years in northern France, the Polish international was intent on gaining more playing time and a chance to display his talent ahead of UEFA EURO 2012, when the eyes of the football world will be focused on his homeland and Ukraine.

“It was the decision that seemed to make the most sense to be, both on a sporting and personal level,” the midfielder explained to FIFA.com. “Plus you have to remember that Bordeaux are a big club who were French champions less than three years ago and who also reached the quarter-finals of the Champions League. For me, it was a chance to play and continue improving at a good French club.”

His new side also look to be on their way back up again after two tempestuous seasons, and Obraniak has no regrets about having left the defending French champions behind him. “When the players above you in the pecking order are better than you, you have to be able to admit that,” he said. “When you’ve got Moussa Sow, Gervinho and Eden Hazard on the pitch, what can you say?”

Of course, both Sow and Gervinho have also moved on since last summer, but Les Dogues have hardly stood still on the recruitment front and Obraniak felt no closer to the starting line-up when he departed. “You don’t sign a player like Joe Cole to leave him on the bench all season,” he noted.

Fittingly, however, the 27-year-old was able to prove his worth to his former employers barely a month after emptying his locker as Bordeaux made the trip north for a Ligue 1 fixture in February. Having already scored one goal and created another, he buried the winner in added time to secure an incredible 5-4 win that left the home side speechless.

“Although it kind of bothered me that it was against my old team-mates, I saw it as a sign of destiny,” he said. “To come back to Lille and score a double against a team that said I couldn’t be a starter was obviously a nice bit of revenge.”

European pressure
It was not the first time Obraniak had played a starring role as a means of responding to frustration (click the link on the right to read FIFA.com’s interview with him last June). “My first coach when I was young realised that sometimes I needed to be wound up to provoke a reaction. Subconsciously, I could tend to fall asleep a bit and just let things go.”

Since then, the constant demands of the game at the highest level have helped turn that character trait into a virtue. “When the stakes are high and the pressure mounts, that allows me to raise my playing level and concentrate even harder. Pressure invigorates me.”

He will have every chance to prove the truth of that claim when EURO 2012 rolls around next month, with Poland desperate to impress on home soil. “To play in this kind of competition is what it’s all about for a professional footballer,” he explained. “It’s not an end in itself, but we all dream of playing in a World Cup or a European Championship. That’s why I’m trying to prepare myself in the best way possible, because it’ll be an important moment for Poland and for me personally.”

Having qualified automatically as co-hosts, Poland avoided the rigours and potential disappointment of a lengthy qualifying campaign. That makes it difficult to gauge their current level, and hardly constitutes the perfect way to limber up for the tests to come, but Obraniak is full of confidence as he looks ahead. “When you look at the games we played against Portugal and Germany recently, I’m very optimistic and I think we have a team that can be dangerous.”

Although it will be the left-footed player’s first major international tournament, he is convinced he and his team-mates can go far, not least since they have been drawn with Greece, Russia and the Czech Republic in Group A. “If we can’t get out of that group, there isn’t a group we could get out of,” he said.

“When you avoid Spain and all the big teams, and when you’re playing on home soil as well, it’s the perfect opportunity to reach the quarter-finals or even further. Everything is possible with the fans behind us and confidence high, but if we don’t get past the group stage it would be a huge disappointment for everyone.”

In some ways, perhaps, it would also be par for the course, with Poland having fallen at the first hurdle at EURO 2008 as well as their last two FIFA World Cup™ campaigns in 2002 and 2006. Franciszek Smuda’s side are therefore hoping for a turnaround in fortunes similar to the one Obraniak has enjoyed since his shrewd winter move – and it could be their No10 who lights the spark.