Arguably the best player Poland has ever produced, Boniek will forever be remembered for his role
in the country's 3rd place at the 1982 World Cup. However, his absence from the tournament's semi-final
will go down as one of the great "what if's" of the game. Robbed of their star man, could Poland have
upset the odds and reached the final ?
Starting his career with his hometown club Zawisa Bydgoszcz, Boniek was soon being tipped for great
things. One of Poland's biggest clubs, Widzew Lodz, were in for him immediately, and his form there as
an attacking midfielder or forward saw him gain his first national cap in 1976, aged only 20.
He was taken to the 1978 World Cup finals in Argentina but sat out the first two group games against
West Germany and Tunisia. However, he was brought in for the final game against Mexico and made an
immediate impact, scoring twice and outshining more celebrated team-mates such as Deyna and Lato
as he inspired the Poles to a 3-1 win that meant they went through as group winners. He kept his place
in the tough group 2 matches against Argentina, Brazil and Peru, and, despite failing to score,
the 22 year old Boniek had impressed everyone with his commitment, work-rate and no little skill.
Boniek remained at Widzew Lodz until the 1982 World Cup, where another sparkling tournament meant
an inevitable move to one of Europe's top clubs. The Poles went into the tournament in Spain as
one of the dark-horses, and started off with a respectable 0-0 draw against Italy.
Another goal-less draw against surprise package Cameroon meant they went into the final game against
Peru needing a win to ensure a place in the next phase. With Boniek, Smolarek, Buncol and Lato
pulling all the strings going forward, they crushed the South Americans 5-1 and, as in 1978, they went
through as group winners. Probably the best performance of his international career came in the opening
match of the second phase - a fantastic hat-trick against Belgium within just 50 minutes.
Still one of the best hat-tricks in the tournament's history, it featured all the
Boniek traits - guile, determination, pace and skill.
A draw against the Soviet Union in the final game meant that Poland had reached the semi-finals.
However, a crazy 88th minute yellow card meant that Boniek would miss the match against the Italians.
Without their talisman, the Poles went out to a brace from Paulo Rossi in the Nou Camp.
And whilst Boniek returned for the 3rd place play-off victory over France, his tournament had been
soured by the semi-final suspension.
Boniek's form for both club and country meant Widzew were never going to be able to keep hold of him.
Money talked and the £1.1 million that Juventus were prepared to pay for him was massive business
at the time, especially for an East European club. Juve manager Giovanni Trapattoni had been keen on
Boniek ever since he'd ran them ragged in a 1980 UEFA cup match, and eventually got his man.
Boniek joined Juve before the start of the 1982-83 season, teaming up with fellow stars from the
World Cup such as Paulo Rossi and Michel Platini, in what was expected to be an all conquering line-up.
However, things started off slowly, both Boniek and Platini were surprised at the demands of the
Italian game, and of the infamous Italian sports media, and both expressed their concerns over
tactics and formations. By the 2nd part of the season Trapattoni had changed things around slightly and
Boniek, Platini, Rossi and Bettega had formed a formidable attack. Their form came too late to prevent
the Serie A title going to AS Roma, but they finished runners-up and won the Italian Cup.
In Europe they were going strong, Boniek scoring as they thrashed reigning champions Aston Villa
in the quarter finals. The semi-final threw up an intriguing clash for Boniek - his previous club
Widzew Lodz. Boniek was different class against his old team-mates, and setup a fantastic 2nd goal -
running half the length of the pitch, he beat 3 men, did a quick one-two with Rossi,
before hammering in a shot that the goalkeeper could only push into the path of Bettega.
It was this sort of form in the European midweek matches that earned Boniek the nickname
"Bello di Notte" (translating as 'Beauty of the Night') from club owner Gianni Agnelli.
The final against Hamburg was an anticlimax, none of the Juventus stars really did themselves
justice and the Germans ran out deserved 1-0 winners.
Season 1983-84 was another good one for Boniek, with Juventus just pipping Roma to the Serie A title.
There was also European glory in Basle - Boniek scoring the winner in a 2-1 win over Porto in the final
of the European Cup Winners Cup.
Boniek eventually picked up a European Cup winners medal in the following season 1984-1985, but it was
in the tragic circumstances of the Heysel stadium disaster.
It was a foul on Boniek by Gary Gillespie that resulted in the penalty kick that gave Juve the 1-0 victory,
although cameras clearly showed that the foul had taken place outside the box.
Boniek left Juventus for AS Roma in the summer following that ill-fated final,
having enjoyed 3 successful years in Turin.
He just missed out another Serie A winners medal as Roma finished runners-up to his former employees
His time at Roma was not quite as exciting as his glory days at Juve, but they continued to come close
in the league and he won an Italian cup winners medal in 1986. As Boniek turned 30 he had started to
to lose that electric pace, but not his skill. During the 1986 World Cup finals in Mexico he still
managed yet another decent individual tournament performance, but the players around him were not quite of
the same calibre as in 78 and 82 vintage.
Boniek played for another 2 seasons at Roma before retiring in 1988. He returned to Italy for several
disappointing coaching roles during the early 90's - Lecce (1990-1991), Bari (1991-1992),
Sambenedettese (1992-1993) and Avellino (1994-1996).
Boniek returned to Poland in late 90's and served as vice-president of the Polish FA, before returning
to a coaching role with the national team in the summer of 2002. His remit was to qualify for
2004 European Championships but things went decidedly pear-shaped as a series of disastrous performances
culminated in him resigning from the post after only 6 months. Since then he has done some commentating
work for Polish TV.
But let's just forget all about the unsuccessful coaching stints, in our book Boniek will always
be remembered for what he did in his playing career for club and unfashionable East-European country.
It may be a long time before Poland produces another player with the guile and tenacity of Boniek -
one of Europe's finest footballers.