Polish football expert Ryan Hubbard gives FFT the lowdown on Arsenal target Krystian Bielik of Legia Warsaw...
The 60-second story
- Name: Krystian Bielik
- Date of birth: January 4, 1998
- Place of birth: Konin, Poland
- Height: 6ft 2in
- Position: Defensive midfielder
- Clubs: Legia Warsaw (6 apps)
- Country: Poland (2 caps for U16s)
Seeing a player move to your biggest rivals is always a kick in the teeth. But with a quick rise to stardom, and Arsenal now keen to secure his signature, Krystian Bielik’s summer 2014 move to Polish champions Legia Warsaw will have undoubtedly caused even more frustration among Lech Poznan supporters.
While Lech’s youth academy is held in extremely high regard in Poland, Legia is quickly becoming the club for young players to push on to bigger things. It’s for that reason that more and more Lech starlets are deserting Poznan for the nation’s capital, defensive midfielder Bielik being the third to do so since the start of 2013.
A move to Legia saw Bartosz Bereszynski quickly go from a striker of undetermined potential to one of Poland’s most talented young full-backs, while goalkeeper Aleksander Wandzel had been earmarked as “one for the future” before a series of knee injuries ended his career before it had even begun.
Bielik’s rise to prominence, though, has been as impressive as it has been rapid, and not only because he has only just turned 17. With Legia’s heavy autumn schedule forcing them to play 34 times in just five months, coach Henning Berg has been forced to rotate his squad, giving chances to youngsters in league games while saving his strongest squad for Europe.
After seeing him play just two games in the second string, Berg had no reservations about calling Bielik into his starting line-up, with the teenager playing 90 minutes in August’s 2-0 victory over Korona Kielce. Five more first-team appearances have since followed, including one as a late substitute in December’s Europa League victory against Trabzonspor.
Why you need to know him...
Arsene Wenger is known to have an eye for talent, and his pursuit of Bielik only proves the midfielder’s promise. "I see a lot of potential in you," Wenger is reported to have told the youngster when he visited the Emirates over Christmas, following up with his view that "age is not important, you will get a chance". It's likely that the Frenchman wouldn't be afraid to keep that promise either, having previously fielded three 17-year-olds in Arsenal's Champions League win over Galatasaray.
The brief trip to England was enough to sway Bielik, who returned to Poland eager for his club to agree a deal with the Gunners. “I confess that I am a little bit afraid,” he told media upon his return to Poland, “but only a madman would have no concerns about what would be waiting ahead. You have to be confident, and I am sure of both myself and my abilities”.
Yet with all parties eager for the move to go ahead, the £1.6 million offer faxed over to the Warsaw club was swiftly rejected, with Legia holding out for an improved figure.
Standing at an imposing 6ft 2in tall, Bielik is able to present himself as a serious threat from crosses and set-pieces, with four of his five goals this season (three for the national under-17 side, and one for Legia's reserves) having come from headers. In addition, his ability to contribute to attacking play, and even to time a surging late run into the box, have led to comparisons with Gunners’ legend Patrick Vieira.
But that is far from where the similarities with the former French international end. Like Vieira, Bielik prefers to remain sat right in front of the back four, dictating the pace of play wherever possible. While he has the skill to beat players, and has the confidence to do so if necessary, he is well disciplined - generally attempting to release the ball forward without rushing himself into making mistakes.
However, his key skill lies in his distribution - being able to comfortably play both neat and simple passes, as well as accurate long balls to catch defences off-guard and start attacks.
As can only be expected of someone his age, Bielik is somewhat lacking in experience , with less than 10 hours of senior football behind him, and only three of those in the Legia first team. Remaining at Legia, he would be able to pick up game time, but a move to a bigger club might limit his-first team opportunities.
Though his height is an obvious strength, his weight doesn’t quite match up – a 78kg frame perhaps a little on the light side. While he is not afraid to make tackles and get stuck in, a little bulking up probably wouldn’t do any harm if he is to fully adapt to the physicality of the English game.
While many Poles are exited at the prospect of one of their young talents moving to such a prestigious club, ex-Legia striker Dariusz Dziekanowski is far from impressed at the club’s willingness to let such a talent leave.
“It will be a slap in the face for all Polish football,” the former international wrote in his column for sports newspaper Przeglad Sportowy. “In a few years he could walk away from Legia, not for €1.5m, but for €10m!”
Did you know...?
Should he complete the move to north London, Bielik will become the third player to transfer between the two clubs, following Lukasz Fabianski in 2007 and Wojciech Szczesny two years later. With Arsenal’s first offer for Bielik met with rejection, it’s likely that he’ll surpass the £2.1m fee paid for Fabianski, although the actual fee received by Legia will be less due to the now-weakened Euro. The deal would also sit comfortably within the top 10 transfer fees received by a Polish club.
What happens next?
At the time of writing, Arsenal are preparing to launch a third bid for the wonderkid, with Legia’s valuation reported to be in the region of €3m (£2.3m). Further financial incentives may include a percentage of any sell-on fee, and extra cash after a certain number of appearances.
For the time being, the Poles are happy to sit and wait for their valuation to be met - there is no desperation to sell, and Arsenal have already shown their hand with their eagerness to capture Bielik’s signature. Meanwhile, if a deal cannot be struck there is also interest from both Hamburg and Roma, who are both reported to be monitoring proceedings closely.