It was probably the most bizarre appointment FC Luzern’s management have ever made. Or, if you’re the sort of person who’s into Conspiracy Theory, the most breathtakingly cynical. In July 2001, it was announced that Ryszard Komornicki was FC Luzern’s new trainer. And what qualified him to carry the hopes of the whole of Central Switzerland? The answer, apparently, was that the season before, he had led the amateurs of FC Kickers from the 5th to the 4th tier of the Swiss football pyramid.
FC Kickers are Lucerne’s OTHER football club (forget about those green-and-white mugs on the other side of the Eichhof brewery – Kriens has never been and never will be part of Lucerne) and play at the Tribschen stadium (basically a glorified sportsfield, albeit in a beautiful lakeside setting) in front of 150 or so no doubt fanatical supporters, some of whom may not even be related to the players on the pitch. OK, so the Tribschen pitch is broadly the same size as Luzern’s, and like Luzern, their playing staff consists of 20 – 30 young men, each with two arms and two legs, but in all other respects FC Luzern and FC Kickers simply live in different universes.
Just to make Ryszard’s challenge just that little bit greater, 2001 was the club’s centenary year, and in late August the club would be playing a friendly against the best, most prestigious team ever to grace the Allmend stadium – FC Barcelona.
So where do the conspiracy theories come in? Well, in Summer 2001, Raimondo Ponte also joined FCL’s management team, as ‘Director of Football’. Ponte came directly from our friends at FC Zürich, where he had enjoyed a long but erratic career as trainer. He claimed that he had now had enough of the trainer business and wished to take a back seat. But if you were cynically inclined, you might think that Ponte had lobbied for a weak, inexperienced trainer to be appointed so that he, like a fat Italian puppeteer, could sit in the background and, pull the strings. Basically, Komornicki was being set up as Ponte’s patsy.
The season started and Luzern were absolutely, completely hopeless. What made it worse was that the players genuinely seemed to be trying, but also seemed to have no idea what they were supposed to be doing. Also, with the exception of Gabriel Urdaneta, none of them seemed to have any technical ability at all.
“Jetzt haben wir unseren FCL zurück” (Now we’ve got our FCL back!) A comment heard more and more often on the terraces of the swisspor arena during thedisastrous start to the 2012 / 2013 season. A team that appears to dominate its home games, but whose every move breaks down at the edge of the opposition’s penalty area as the strikers decide that, rather than trying for a shot, they should go for just one more short pass. A well-organised defender (they’re always well organised) sticks a foot in the way, the crowd howls in frustration, and it all starts again. Every now and then, just to make things more interesting, one of our defenders will throw in an individual error (it’s always an individual error) and the opposition will, inevitably, score. It’s like that now and it was like that in 2001.
So we lost our home matches by narrow margins and were absolutely thrashed when we played away (0:6 against GC, 0:4 against YB). After five games and one point, Komornicki had to admit that this was not a Hollywood film and that the rookie trainer was hopelessly out of his depth. At a post-match press conference, asked what he could do to turn things around, he simply said ‘Ich kann es nicht” (I can’t do it). A startling piece of honesty in the World of Bullshit that is the modern football press conference, but of course Komornicki might as well have said “Please sack me now.” He was fired the next day, and it was immediately announced that FCL were to be managed for the rest of the season by Raimondo Ponte – after all, why pay good money for a new trainer when you’ve already got an experienced man on the management team? A thousand conspiracy theorists nodded smugly and said “I told you so!”
It’s typical of FCL’s often graceless way of doing business that Komornicki was denied the chance to be part of the highlight of the club’s centenary celebrations; the friendly against FC Barcelona. This memorable game took place only two days later.
If anyone from Barcelona is reading this, I would like to apologise on behalf of FC Luzern. We’re not normally that bad, honestly. It wasn’t even a particularly good Barca squad; Ronaldinho, Messi and tika-taka were a few years in the future, but they came to the Allmend, quickly knocked in five goals without reply and then relaxed, easily fending off Luzern’s clumsy attempts to find a way through their defence. I remember that Puyol was there (looking exactly the same as he does today!), Patrick Kluivert looked incredibly fit and genuinely world class whilst Marc Overmars tore up and down the wing like a maniac. (Apparently, his nickname was ‘The Roadrunner’ and we could all see why. Beep beep!!) Meanwhile new recruit Geovanni moped on the right wing, practically ignored by all the other Barca players. Could he already sense that in a few years he would be playing for Hull City? However, what I really remember about Barcelona was theway they passed the ball. Whereas Allmend regulars though that a successful pass consisted of gently rolling the ball in the general direction of a teammate,Barcelona really thumped it; every pass was hit as hard as a shot and with perfect accuracy. Even balls we thought had been thrashed aimlessly into empty space would be intercepted by a Barcelona player arriving out of nowhere. It was this, rather than the score, that made clear the gulf in class between FCs Luzern and Barcelona. In truth, it made for very uncomfortable watching.
After this ‘highlight’, Luzern’s season continued to fall apart. Ponte made no difference at all, and we were duly relegated. Would it have made any difference if Komornicki had been allowed to stay on – not only for the Barcelona game but for the rest of the season? Which brings us to the point – what are we to think about Ryszard Komornicki?
A few years after the whole debacle I was talking football with an FC Zürich fan and happened to mention Komornicki. I was told that he most definitely wasNOT a waste of space; at the time FCZ were enjoying their most successful phase since the 1970s and Komornicki was their highly respected assistant trainer. In my opinion (and it’s backed up by his unimpressive career after leaving Zürich) Komornicki is a good second-in-command and a very nice guy but not suited to be the man in charge. For that job, you need not only a good knowledge of football (which he has) but also some big ideas, the ability to innovate and, most important of all, a talent for motivation. None of which I think he has. What he does seem to have, unfortunately, is a thin skin. He apparently gets upset, for example, if anyone mis-spells or mispronounces his name – surely an everyday annoyance for a Polish person living in Western Europe.
I sincerely hope for all our sakes that Ryszard proves me wrong. However, history has a habit or repeating itself. Komornicki was sacked two days before a home game against a European team. Eleven years later, he came back . . . two days before a home game against a European team.
Here we go again.