The long, cold Winter break in Poland gave Vladimir Latunov time to get over the wrath he’d unleashed upon the pathetic Nicklas Bendtner. However, it came too late to stop him dishing out additional fury upon some of Bendtner’s high-earning former Zaglebie Lubin teammates.
The Russian manager realised several of the club’s top earners weren’t even near the first team, so the likes of 37-year-old defender Lubomir Guldan, crap striker Rok Sirk, inconsistent winger Patryk Szysz, backup goalkeeper Konrad Ferenc and useless 29-year-old midfielder Evgeny Bashkirov all followed Bendtner onto the transfer list and on their bikes.
In their place came a few promising youngsters from the club’s youth sides and a raft of loanees on substantially less or zero wages. That reduced the club’s weekly wage spending down to just £34,000.
Refreshed, injured and struggling
The winter break was a total waste of time as Latunov’s friendly-friendly assistant kept arranging “warm-up games” that seemed to defeat the point of a winter break. And the manager was utterly fuming when one of the club’s best players Sasa Zivec picked up yet another injury in a friendly he wasn’t able to get cancel.
A depleted squad began 2021 with an absolute borefest 0-0 at home to mid-table side Wisla Plock then a 3-0 hammering at Lech Poznan, in which Zaglebie mustered just three shots and zero on target. That took the fledgling manager to six games without a win and his first real period of pressure.
To counter that, he shifted a few things around, changed up a few player roles and it seemed to work in a 3-0 victory at Warta Poznan. The win was inspired by an excellent creative display by Latunov’s favourite workhorse Lukasz Poreba and a brace from loanee Dejan Drazic that tripled his league tally for the season.
That offered some momentum going into a home game against Rakow. Zaglebia dominated and – after 21 shots – finally made the breakthrough with Filip Starznyski, which was shamefully just his second of the season. The sudden good form continued with another great 3-0 win at Cracovia, inspired by a Samuel Mraz brace and a Drazic screamer.
However, Zaglebie then faced three of the top four and reigning champions Legia. They lost the first one so, of course, went and lost all four – despite having just won three on the bounce. This run of games typified Latunov’s frustration with recent events. In particular, the game against Legia saw the opponents have four attacks and score with all four. Then, at leaders Lechia a red card changed the game in a 1-0 defeat, while Poreba and Mraz got injured, which didn’t help.
Latunov’s anger resurfaced, this time with Zivec, who was supposedly the club’s best player but had one goal and one assist at a 6.7 rating. He felt the wrath of a Latunov two-week fine, reacted negatively and bagged himself a £100,000 move away. Youngster Adam Ratajcyzk was promoted in his place and, Latunov was heard shouting at Zivec on his way out of the club, “He can’t do much worse.”
FA Cup run
Zaglebie had been saving their brightest moments for the Polish FA Cup. Drazic and Mraz combined to ease them past Sleza in the quarter-finals with a third-consecutive 3-0 away win. They then drew one of two second-tier sides in the semis, which pitted them against Korona, which sounded somewhat topical. Latunov ensured he packed extra masks and hand sanitiser, just in case.
The shocking form seen in the league continued as, despite dominating, it took Latunov’s 20 shots to score against Korona, and somehow only edged past them 1-0. However, Latunov took all the praise for his inspired substution resulting in 19-year-old striker Nikola Mudresa scoring his first goal for the club to seal Zaglebie’s place in only their fourth-ever FA Cup Final.
Back to the league, unfortunately
Mudresa was inspired by that first goal as he bagged a brace in the last five minutes to seal a 2-0 win over bottom of the league Podbeskiedze. The midfield, however, hadn’t learnt from the lessons of their former colleagues had been well and truly appalling. That showed with three consecutive 0-0 draws, which ended with a 2-1 loss to local rivals and title challengers Slask then defeat against fifth-placed Pogon.
Latunov was far from happy with the form that brought Zaglebie to the final day of the season in a real slump. The campaign concluded at Wisla Plock and Latunov’s fury wasn’t helped when, like against Pogon, his side conceded to the opponent’s first shot.
Zaglebie levelled through a Starzynski penalty, then exciting young left-winger Dawid Hanc scored on his debut and Mrac made it 3-1 two minutes later. However, from the kick-off, Drazic got himself sent off, which pretty much summed up the deperation of the season to Latunov. Just to cloud his mood even further going into the summer break, Wisla got a goal back by breaking from a Zaglebie corner then scored an injury-time free-kick to extend the winless run. Latunov was far from happy, and was quoted as saying the final day performance “typified the spinelessness of this bunch of players.”
The final day draw saw Zaglebie finish the season with one win from the final 11 games and just four wins from 16 games in 2021. They finished in 12th place in Ekstraklasa with 34 points from 30 games, after taking 17 from the first 14 games. The side also only scored 31 goals and only let in 34, which made it clear that goals are our key issue. Latunov noted that an appointment with the firing range was well overdue, but no-one was sure whether that mean shooting balls into goals… or something very different… but they dare not cross the angry Russian.
Impressively, Lechia won the Ekstraklasa for the first time in their history!
FA Cup Final!
Despite the league struggles, the resplendent looking Vladimir Latunov was a proud man as he led Zaglebie Lubin into a cup final in his first year of management.
The Polish FA Cup Final came with three games of the league campaign remaining and, just to add a little intrigue to the matter, neither Zaglebie nor opponents Rakow had ever won the FA Cup before!
Zaglebie made got a good start as centre-back Lorenco Simic headed home from a corner on 11 minutes then Drazic teed up Mraz to double the lead just before the break. Rakow came back into it just after half-time and absolutely dominated but Dominik Hladun pulled off a string of saves until VAR awarded a very dodgy looking penalty in the 91st minute. Luckily, Hladun was the hero again as he saved the kick to inspire Zaglebie Lubin to the first Polish FA Cup win in its history!
Vladimir Latunov’s first Soviet Surge campaign had been more of a stumble than a surge. The league campaign came to a painful ending as the club couldn’t buy a win, but he ensured Zaglebie fans had smiles on their faces with a historic first FA Cup win for the club.
Only three Zaglebie players averaged more than a 7.00 rating all season, which is always the sign of a poor campaign. And two of those were the left-back and left centre-back. More concerningly, Drazic was the top scorer with 11 goals, and he only managed five in 17 in the league. Mraz (eight) was the only other player to score more than three goals all season.
Starzynski was supposedly a star player but Latunov was far from impressed with the midfielder’s form for most of the season. Although he did manage to lead the way with 11 assists from 32 games. Drazic won the Ekstraklasa goal of the season for his strike against Cracovia in March and Hladun was named in the league’s team of the season.
That wrapped up season one in Eastern Europe. However, there was a twist as Legia Warszawa sacked their manager after a poor campaign… and immediately began eyeing up Vladimir Latunov as his replacement! They offered an interview, it went really well and then they officially offered Latunov the job.
Legia had a transfer budget that’s three-times bigger than Zaglebie’s and a wage budget five-times greater than Zaglebie’s. So that was a total no-brainer for the fledgling Russian manager.
Join us next time in the Soviet Surge as Vladimir Latunov takes his next step in conquering the Eastern Bloc by taking the reins at Polish giants Legia Warszawa!