In part one of this brand new save surging into the former Soviet Union, fledgling Russian manager Vladimir Latunov stuck a pin in his war map and selected his first club from the Eastern Bloc – Polish side KGHM Zaglebie Lubin.
Who are KGHM Zaglebie Lubin?
KGHM Zaglebie Lubin, or simply KHGM Zaglebie, is a professional club based in Lubin, a town in the south-west of Poland with a population of 72,581. The KGHM element of the name comes from its sponsorship by mining business KGHM Polska Miedz, which is the third largest corporation in Poland.
The club formed in August 1945, when the German town of Luben became the Polish town Lubin. A group of ethnic Poles who were forced to leave their homes in the east of Poland formed a club called OMTUR Lubin that quickly gained popularity and even played against Russia’s Red Army. Several name changes followed before copper was discovered around Lubin in 1957, which led to the construction of a mine and the KGHM company investing money into the club.
It finally settled on the Zaglebie Lubin in 1966 and won promotion to the second division in 1975. It went on to win the Polish top tier in 1991 and again in 2007, and was runner-up in the Polish FA Cup in 1985, 1989 and 2015.
The 2.5-star reputation club, also known as Miedziowi – The Coppers – play at the Stadion Miejski in real life, or the Zaglebie Lubin Stadium on FM, which holds 16,068 people and was built in 2009.
The Board wants Latunov to focus on developing players using the youth system develop the best youth ssystem in the country. He’ll also need to work within the wage budget, while finishing in the top half of the Ekstraklasa. And the media predict the club to finish eighth out of 16 teams.
Luckily, with that in mind, Zaglebie has excellent youth recruitment, great youth facilities and good academy coaching and training facilities to work with.
Meet the Zaglebie Lubin squad
Upon glancing through the recent Polish transfers page, Latunov discovered Zaglebie had just sold 18-year-old striker Bartosz Bialek to Wolfsburg for £4.6 million. And they only have £4.7 million in the bank.
However, the Russian’s club does seem to have a solid squad to work with. The best player at the club is midfielder Filip Starzynski, along with all-round atttacking midfielder Sasa Zivec and holding midfielders Evgeny Bashkirov and Jakub Zubrowski. They also have a decent goalkeeper in 24-year-old Dominik Hladun.
Given Latunov’s particular keenness to develop youth players, the best potential in the squad was two Serbian loanees in striker Samuel Mraz, from Empoli, and Dejan Drazic from Slovan Bratislava. But the best prospect is 23-year-old Croatian centre-back is Lorenco Simic.
However, Latunov was more pleased to learn of mass of hot prospects in Zaglebie’s reserves and under 18s side. The best of those is 15-year-old right-back Jakub Kolan along with 18-year-old striker/left-winger Bartosz Zynek.
As alluded to above, the strongest part of the squad is central midfield, with at least four players with more than 3.5-star ability. Latunov believed the side was also solid at centre-back and had a couple of decent options at full-back. However, he was preturbed by the lack of good wing options and not having a striker rated at more than 3-stars. Another major short-term concern was a lack of quality outside the first 11.
With that in mind, Latunov concocted a tactic that played on his strong defensive rearguard and midfield that focused play through the middle of the park. And, with his ushanka keeping his head nice and warm against the winter chill, he put the finishing touches on a cheeky Xmas Tree formation:
However, Latunov did dip his toes into the transfer market as he explored the free agents list for a striker that might be able to bag a few goals. And who did he come up with? Nicklas Bendtner aka Lord Bendtner. He was very much aware that this could be a very dodgy signing but was convinced Bendtner would at least be good enough for a season. And those contrasting sentiments were firmly reflected by the fans’ reaction! Latunov jotted down the name Gutkowski and told his boys to “monitor” Albert.
Exploring Polski Ekstraklasa
This may not surprise you: Vladimir Latunov had never managed in Poland before. So this represented a massive delve into the unknown! He had heard of Legia, who produce good young talent and recognisable players like Joel Valencia, and teams like Lech Poznan and Wisla Krakow. And, as a nice welcome to Poland, Latunov also discovered that Cracovia begin the season on -5 points for match fixing!
Zaglebie began the season with a tough game at home to Lech Poznan, who were second favourites to win the league. Things weren’t looking good as Lech went ahead early on with their first shot. But Zaglebie dominated the game and got back into it with a debut goal from Lord Bendtner, who headed home from close range from a Zivec cross. Latunov immediately sent the boys round to taunt/provoke Albert Gutkowski. Both teams had late chances but shared the points in a solid 1-1 draw.
Another Poznan team as Warta came to Lubin. Zaglebie missed two sitters inside six minutes and dominated the first half but failed to score, which left Latunov seething on the sidelines. His anger was appeased by Zaglebie winning a penalty that Starzynski smashed home that sealed his first-ever win. But he wasn’t impressed by the team only scoring once with an xG of 2.05 to Warta’s 0.05.
He was slightly happier with a 2-2 draw at fellow expected mid-table side Rakow then dominating naughty match-fixers Cracovia 2-0 with second-half goals from midfielders Lukasz Poreba and debutant Adam Ratajczyk.
Lord Bendtner bagged a brace in an FA Cup win then scored again in a draw with Jagiellonia. But the striker had a stinker that well and truly touched the short patience of his manager, then got injured for six weeks. Unusally, Latunov offered some sympathy for his misfortune but the striker well and truly got his knickers in a twist. Classic Bendtner – and this looks like being a manager/player match made in Hell.
Bendtner’s injury coincided with an awful run of four straight defeats against teams in the top half then red cards in consecutive games, the second of which came after 18 minutes and resulted in throwing away a two-goal lead at Wisla Krakow in the cup. But the team, fuelled by Latunov’s icy team talk, won on penalties!
The Russian got his side back to winning ways against bottom of the league mouthful Podbeskidzie Bielkso-Bialka, which was followed by another 1-0 over fellow mid-table side Stal Mielec. But the side’s best performances were all in the FA Cup, including defeating league leaders Lechia 2-0 to progress to the quarter-finals.
That provided confidence as the side went to 2019 champions Piast and gained a 1-1 draw, which Latunov thought they should have won after taking the lead through a senational Szysz goal on the counter. He also thought a win should have been delivered against second-placed Slask but another red card caused a 3-2 defeat.
Zaglebie lost their final game of 2020 before a winter break and Bendtner had an absolute nightmare, which saw the two hotheads come to blows. Latunov laid into Bendtner’s performance, Mr Ego got upset, Latunov fined him, Bendtner got very angry, and he ended up being offered out for transfer and demoted. Another hissy-fit later the Dane swiftly joined Qarabag for £4,400. Welcome to the bizarre tale of Lord Bendtner, and good riddance to him.
That sent Zaglebie into the Polish winter break in 10th in the Estraklasa with 17 points from 14 games. However, Latunov was firmly of the opinion that the side should have at least six more points, which would have put them in fourth, and wasn’t afraid to tell the team what he thought about their results! The players, however, was less pleased with being routinely berated by the Russian.
Join us next time as Vladimir Latunov aims to arrest a slump in form in his first season of the Soviet Surge!