BY: MATTHEW SANTANGELO (@MATT_SANTANGELO)
Last week, amidst the concern – and now official collapse - of Patrik Schick’s €30.5 move from Sampdoria to Juventus, the Blucerchiati welcomed another gifted young forward into the fold; 20-year old Polish striker Dawid Kownacki.
Dubbed ‘the next Robert Lewandowski’, Kownacki has set out to emulate his role model currently tormenting his opponent at every turn in Germany. Prior to becoming one of the top strikers in European football at Borussia Dortmund and Bayern Munich, Lewandowski spent two successful seasons with Ekstraklasa club Lech Poznań where he bagged over 40 goals. Claiming Kownacki to be cut from the same cloth, though it may sound like a stretch, is not as completely farfetched as it seems. By observing the two stars comparable growth early in their 20s prior to leaving Poznań, there is reason to believe Kownacki could follow in his idol’s footsteps and become the next Polish star. But success in football, like life, requires patience, persistence and self-belief in order to reach historic heights.
Kownacki debuted in the Polish first division at 16 during the 2013-14 campaign, scoring his maiden goal a month before turning 17, along the way becoming Lech Poznań’s youngest ever goal-scorer. Oozing infinite potential, early success induced a sense of entitlement. Deep down, Kownacki felt as though he was on the fast-track to superstardom. CEO of the Polish Football Federation Zbigniew Boniek, however, believed this immediate success got to his head, quoted as saying, via Kamil Rogolski, that ‘Dawid had a moment of obsession that everything should happen to him, here and now, including transfers abroad.’
Persevering amidst the struggle, Kownacki’s mindset has since changed, ultimately helping him become a grounded, more technically versed footballer, as we saw last year at Poznań. At 20, he has begun to understand the meaning of hard work, determination and patience, all of which will lead him down the right path to a stellar playing career.
Initial scouting reports of Kownacki during his first two seasons at Poznań indicated that he was the type of striker that would score the bulk of his goals in the penalty area. During the 2015-16 season under manager Jan Urban, Lech Poznań endured their fair share of shortcomings up front. Starved of attacking talent, Kownacki was confined to the box, ultimately exposing his lack of co-operation, unable to connect with his midfield on a consistent basis; thereby disjointing the attack. Urban was replaced after just one season at the helm by Yugoslavian Nenad Bjelica, who immediately altered Kownacki’s mentality as a centre-forward. Instantly, his skill-set expanded, blossoming into an offensive midfielder who actively enjoyed increased space and time on the ball. You could argue Bjelica completely reworked his approach, evident in his 9 goals scored in 16-17 from just over 1300 total minutes of league action.
Now, the question one should be asking is: how will Kownacki fill in at Sampdoria, and can he follow up Schick’s rookie campaign with a masterclass of his own?
Kownacki’s fast movement and mobility enables manager Marco Giampaolo to play more direct football. Counter-attacking should be a strength for Sampdoria this upcoming season, especially with the additions of left-back Nicola Murru and winger Gianluca Caprari. Kownacki will have options to play in wide areas, and may find himself linking up with the fellow Poznań academy graduate Karol Linetty and the ‘Uruguayan Veratti’ Lucas Torreira who is the controller at the base of Giampaolo’s projected 4-3-1-2. Sampdoria, with Luis Muriel now at Sevilla, could elect to play Kownacki up front as the vice-Fabio Quagliarella. At 34, the Italian’s limited movement could bode well for Kownacki whose energy and ability to link play permits Quagliarella to focus his efforts on causing damage in the penalty area. Or, perhaps Kownacki is part of a rotation with Caprari on the right-wing, seeing as the Roman possesses the quality and understanding to play in behind Quagliarella as a seconda punta.
Sampdoria, whether Schick stays or goes, must make do without Muriel and the criminally underrated Portuguese number 10 Bruno Fernandes by finding creative ways to replace their offensive outputs. Kownacki’s arrival, in short, delivers Giampaolo a flexible attacking player, who, despite lacking physical strength, should find regular time immediately as Sampdoria aim to chase a possible UEFA Europa League birth in 2017-18.
Arkadiusz Milik sits as the main man in the Italian top-flight at Napoli, and Łukasz Teodorczyk is tearing it up in Belgium with Anderlecht, but it is Dawid Kownacki who is the most talented striker Polish football has seen since Robert Lewandowski. The pressure is on young Dawid to lift the Sampdoria faithful this season at the Marassi as the latest foreign import from Poland, and begin leaving his footprint on Italian turf.