Just a few months after obtaining Polish citizenship, Ludovic Obraniak is ready to defend his new country's colours in his first competitive games on the international scene. The Lille midfielder made an instant impact when winning his first cap in an August friendly and he now has his sights set on a place at the 2010 FIFA World Cup™ South Africa.
Two goals in 45 minutes against Greece earned Obraniak a standing ovation on his "fairytale" debut, the left-footed player having collected his Polish passport in June. Now, two weeks on from that stunning start and with two vital qualifiers against Northern Ireland and Slovenia coming up, Obraniak has already forgotten the euphoria surrounding his fist appearance.
Since that game, Obraniak's friend Marcin Wasilewski has suffered the horror of an open double leg fracture playing for Anderlecht against Belgian league rivals Standard Liege. Immediately rushed to hospital, the defender will be sidelined for at least ten months and may never succeed in getting his career back on track, a fact that has darkened the mood among Leo Beenhakker's squad. "Several players sent him messages or called him," said Obraniak. "Me personally, I haven't even been able to watch the incident: it's too difficult. We're sad for him. It was Marcin who made it possible for me to score my first international goal. Obviously, it's difficult to tell yourself he won't be there. We're going to play these two matches for him."
That unfortunate incident has added to Obraniak's already high motivation levels, with the 24-year-old grandson of Zygmunt, who emigrated to France in the 1960s, extremely keen to prove his worth to his new team. Born in Lorraine in 1984, 'Ludo' had never before even visited the country of his ancestors.
When he finally completed his return to his roots last month, it was as much a question of pride as one of sporting pragmatism. "When I got interested in our family tree, I have to admit that the story of my grandfather and that of Poland itself touched me," he said. "I started the administrative process two years ago. I'm proud of my family, my blood is Polish too, and I feel an attachment to this culture."
Five years after turning out for the France Under-21 side, the former Metz prodigy is likewise a popular figure in Poland, thanks as much to his excellent debut as to his efforts to integrate. "I get lots of messages of encouragement from Polish supporters and I feel good within the team," explained 'The Coathanger', so called by his Lille team-mates because of impressive trapezius muscles. "It's a real pleasure and that makes this first qualifier even more exciting for me. I don't want to disappoint people and I'll do everything to repay them. Against Greece, there was a great atmosphere with 30,000 people going 'Ola', and I got a lot of applause as soon as I came on. There will be even more pressure against Northern Ireland, but I can't wait."
Before kick-off in Chorzow on Saturday, the Franco-Polish player will also make a point of singing the national anthem, Mazurek Dabrowskiego, along with his colleagues. Having learnt the words phonetically for his debut, Obraniak has since worked hard to master the song previously sung by the Polish Legions in Italy. "During the first get-together, I spent three fantastic days despite the language barrier," he said. "I've tried to progress because I really want to be able to communicate with the others soon." Only Auxerre defender Dariusz Dudka also speaks the language of Moliere in the Polish dressing-room, but everyone is united by their passion for football and Obraniak shares as much enthusiasm for the game as he does for the red-and-white shirt of his new team.
The international break has come at a perfect time too, with Lille floundering near the bottom of Ligue 1 after a difficult summer behind the scenes. "This has given me my confidence back and I feel better," said Obraniak, who could soon be followed into the Polish camp by other French players. Sochaux defender Damien Perquis also has Polish roots and is seriously considering taking the same path after being contacted by the Polish FA.