He’s won the World Cup, the Bundesliga and the FA Cup but, after an illustrious 18-year senior career, Lukas Podolski is finally about to fulfil his dream.
The 36-year-old former Germany international is set to make his competitive debut for boyhood club Gornik Zabrze in the Polish top flight on Sunday as they kick off their Ekstraklasa campaign against Pogon Szczecin – after making a ‘dream’ move he had promised for years.
Podolski was born in the Polish town of Gliwice, located next to Zabrze, and despite moving to Germany with his parents aged two has grown up supporting Gornik – widely regarded as the country’s second most-successful club.
The former Cologne, Bayern Munich and Arsenal forward may have played 130 times for Germany, scoring 48 goals and featuring in seven major international tournaments, but Podolski has never forgotten his Polish roots.
His wife Monika is Polish, they speak Polish with their children, and his ties to the region of Silesia were especially strong thanks to frequent visits to grandmother Zofia – a Gornik fan like all the Podolski family.
“In Poland, we like Poldi and aren’t too fond of Miroslav Klose. Both are Polish, but Klose never wanted to talk to Polish media, didn’t speak Polish and was proud when singing the German anthem,” Sportowe Fakty journalist Marek Wawrzynowski told BBC Sport.
“Podolski spoke to Poles in our language and didn’t celebrate after scoring twice against Poland at Euro 2008. People feel like he is one of our own.”
In 2012, months before moving to Arsenal from Cologne, he stated: “I follow all the Gornik matches on TV or live on the internet, and am very happy that a new stadium is being built in Zabrze. My dream is to play at those facilities.”
Krzysztof Maj, Gornik’s sporting director at the time, always welcomed him to Zabrze with open arms, and the two became close friends. Podolski promised Maj to play for Gornik towards the end of his career, and he made the same promise to granny Zofia who waited patiently for the moment to come.
Neither lived to witness Podolski keeping his word. Maj suffered a fatal heart attack in 2015 at the age of just 39. Podolski’s grandmother died in December 2019, and the striker wrote on Instagram: “As a little boy, I played football with you. You made me who I am. You always believed in me and my dreams, and together we won the medal of world champions.”
In January 2020, Poldi signed for Antalyaspor, having already played for Galatasaray and Vissel Kobe. While he made money around the globe, it was easy to understand why Gornik fans became extremely sceptical as to his intentions to play for Zabrze.
“Lukas kept saying that he was going to come to Poland, but always chose to play elsewhere, and it gradually became a joke. ‘When Podolski signs for Gornik’ meant something like ‘when pigs fly’ in Silesia – that was never going to happen,” Wirtualna Polska journalist Piotr Kozminski told BBC Sport.
And yet, cynics turned out to be wrong. Podolski had numerous generous offers this summer, including Queretaro who offered him a two-year contract worth three million euros to come to Mexico, but he signed for Gornik for just one season, with an option for another year, stating that would be the last club of his career.
“He would earn six or seven times less than he could get elsewhere. Money isn’t important now for Podolski, it’s all about returning to his roots,” Kozminski added.
Gornik (the name means “miner” in Polish) are a major historic club and the only Polish team to have reached a European final, losing to Manchester City in the Cup Winners’ Cup in 1970. They won 14 championship titles between 1957 and 1988, but suffered mightily after the Communist bloc collapsed and the mining industry became less important.
Their financial abilities are very modest, and they were even relegated for a season in 2008. Last term, they finished only 10th in Ekstraklasa and desperately needed a morale boost to try and recover.
Podolski’s arrival does exactly that, and excitement knows no bounds. “For the first time in Gornik history, a player was presented at the stadium. About 10,000 fans came to greet Poldi, and I can’t remember anything like that in Polish football. Shirts with his name are selling extremely well,” Interia journalist Pawel Czado told BBC Sport.
“We have never had a World Cup winner before in Ekstraklasa. Poldi could make the league more popular around the globe,” Kozminski said.
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