Kevin Graham with A Celtic State of Mind – Patryk Klimala: Time to see ‘The Devil’

As the Celtic players returned after lockdown, the club’s media team went into overdrive to suggest something was close to happening, something close to what we remember football was four months ago. One image caused the Celtic internet to break.

Patryk Klimala, the 21-year-old signed from Jagiellonia Białystok in Poland, arrived in January 2020 for a reported £2.4m; he had scored 11 goals in 48 appearances. The player (slimly-built at six feet in height) came with a nickname (‘The Devil’) but did little to suggest any of this devilment in the 101 minutes we saw of him in a Celtic jersey.

Now, the slim look is gone, replaced with the shaven-headed bulk of a Legia Warsaw ‘ultra’ who’s been hitting the mixed martial arts training. Hopes have been raised.

Celtic have had a few Polish forwards in our unbroken history with the first one being Konrad Kapler, a left-winger, signed from Forres Mechanics in 1948. With Bobby Evans (at that time) and Johnny Paton vying for the same spot in the side, Konrad never became a regular, only playing ten games before moving to Rochdale in 1949. His record with Celtic was mercifully forgettable, suffering nine losses in his ten appearances (with four coming against Third Lanark).

The club was lost in a post-Judas hangover when Billy McNeill paid £650,000 for Legia Warsaw’s talented Dariusz ‘Jacki’ Dziekanowski. He instantly became a fans’ favourite through ability and our desperation for any sort of hero at that time. On a recent ACSOM podcast, Paul Elliott remembers his sheer ability: “He was an unbelievable talent, a great talent, made football look so easy, wonderfully gifted player.” The former Pisa defender was on the same pitch when Celtic Park witnessed one of our greatest ever European exits against Partizan Belgrade, managed by future Dundee United manager Ivan Golac. Elliott recalls: “He scored (four) goals and we still went out on the away goals. We just lost all our discipline, we had both full-backs charging forward, and I’m thinking, ‘calm down, calm down’. Tactically we were all at sea that night. Packed to the rafters was Celtic Park, Jacki was just unbelievable, and still ended up on the losing side.”

Elliott head-flicked on a Paul McStay free-kick for Jacki to score the first of his goals that night, all widely celebrated by the player who showed acceleration and commitment sadly missing in his game for most of his spell at the club. The best goal he scored came against Hibernian at Easter Road when he controlled a headed clearance on his knee 25 yards out and coolly volleyed the ball over a helpless Chris Reid in goal as the ball dropped into the net. It was a bit of genius in his honeymoon period where it looked like we had found an artist born to grace Paradise. It became well documented that Jacki liked the Glasgow nightlife a bit more than he liked the training, and he has only himself to blame that he wasn’t a superstar. God blessed him with talent but forgot heart and hard work.

Listen to PAUL ELLIOTT with A Celtic State of Mind here:

Another player that showed great promise before fading was Maciej Żurawski. Gordon Strachan signed an experienced international player – captain of the national side – who had a decent goalscoring record at that level and, at 29-years-old, was no longer a raw youngster. The player, like Jacki before him, had natural technical and goalscoring ability but was more functional than his entertaining predecessor.

He looked stocky in his playing style, with good close control and, at 6 feet tall, defenders found him difficult to cope with. He scored twenty goals in his first season, including a winner at Ibrox, and we expected him to move to the next level the following year. It never quite happened as a poor World Cup for Poland, then post World Cup fatigue, saw that hope fade. Gordon signed Jan Vennegoor of Hesselink, Scott McDonald, Chris Killen and Georgios Samaras, and Zurawski eventually moved to Cyprus.

Both Jacki and Maciej gave us hope but Paweł Brożek just wasn’t around long enough for us to make any judgement. He arrived on loan in January 2012 from Trabzonspor, played a handful of games and criticised Neil Lennon on the way out the door at the end of that season.

Now we have another Polish striker raising our hopes again.

Patryk Klimala, at the moment, is battling to be a third-choice striker at the club. Odsonne Edouard is the undisputed king and Leigh Griffiths deserves another chance to continue his rehabilitation; Vakoun Bayo and Klimala are the outsiders … but the smart money is on the latter getting the nod to prove himself after Bayo’s struggles with confidence and fitness.

Klimala has now had his bedding-in period. Development players are usually given six months to twelve months at the club before they are looked upon to make an impact. That he has listened by bulking up bodes well. He should be now looking forward to training and game time. Though his nickname, ‘the Devil’ is a family tradition it might well be applied to his playing style.

In his only start, against Clyde in the Scottish Cup, Klimala was off, running in behind a panicking defence, when James Forrest intercepted a pass and Celtic broke. He received the pass but his first touch was heavy, in dreadful conditions; still, he regained control and the quickness of mind to try and loft the ball over the advancing goalkeeper (who made the save). According to the videos, the scenario is similar to the goals he scored in Poland where a speedy devil on the last defender’s shoulder makes them nervous. Hopefully, the ‘devils’ of disappointing past Polish strikers don’t whisper in the new boy’s ear.

Kevin Graham

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