Christopher Lash provides a look at a team composed of members from the old Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth…
I realise that by even starting this piece I have tumbled headlong into the world of football geekdom but I suppose there are worse things to fall into. The Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth was an enormous realm whose star shone brightly from the mid-16th century to the end of the 18th century. Approximately twice the size of modern Spain, the Commonwealth at one point stretched across the territories of eight modern states in Central and Eastern Europe.
It was a state that was characterised by high levels of political participation, the so-called ‘Noble republic’ with an elected monarchy. The Commonwealth was also renowned for its religious tolerance. Here Roman, Armenian and Greek Catholics, Protestants, Jews, Eastern Orthodox believers and Muslims lived side by side, an island of relative harmony at a time when Europe was tearing itself apart in a series of fierce religious wars.
From the middle of the 17th century onwards the Commonwealth was weakened by Swedish invasions and Cossack uprisings and by the time it was partitioned by Austria, Prussia and Russia in 1795 the state was politically divided and economically weak.
The Commonwealth is long dead but what would happen if, just for a while, they pooled their resources to produce a single football team? Would they be world-beaters or would they be racked by internal division as they were at the end of the eighteenth century*? It’s my task to find out.
(*disclaimer – I have used the boundaries of the Commonwealth before the first partition of Poland in 1772)
Team Formation (3-4-3)
Przemysław Tytoń (PSV Eindhoven and Poland)
Przemysław Tytoń was born in the eastern Polish city of Zamość in 1987. Zamość was founded at the end of the 16th century by the Polish Grand Hetman Jan Zamoyski after whom the town is named. The town is famous for being built according to the ideals of the Renaissance and its old town became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1992. Despite its grand beginnings Zamość is now a sleepy place, troubled only by visiting tourists travelling between Lublin and Warsaw.
‘Pszemek’ started his career in the youth system of the local side Hetman Zamość before moving onto Górnik Łęczna and eventually being transferred to the Dutch Eredivisie side Roda JC. He made headlines in 2011 when he signed for the Dutch giants PSV Eindhoven. His career at PSV has unfortunately been characterised by a series of injuries. Pszemek rose to national fame during Euro 2012 when he saved a penalty against Greece after Arsenal’s Wojciech Szczęsny was sent off. An imposing goalkeeper Tytoń would protect the Commonwealth from its external enemies.
Artem Fedetskiy (Dnipro and Ukraine)
Fedetskiy hails from the small western Ukrainian city of Novovolynsk, close to the Polish border. Novovolynsk, in sharp contrast to Zamość, is a new city built by Communist authorities as part of Communist moves to bring industrial modernity to a predominantly agricultural West Ukraine. Fedetskiy is a solid, reliable right-back who likes to get forward and support the attack. He has played for a number of top Ukrainian clubs including Shaktar Donetsk, Karpaty L’viv and his current employers Dnipro. Although he didn’t show much love for the Commonwealth when he played for the Ukrainian side which recently beat Poland 3-1 in Warsaw, Fedetskiy would provide good support for the more attacking members of the Commonwealth’s ranks.
Marcin Wasilewski (Anderlecht and Poland)
Marcin Wasilewski is a Kraków native and one of the most experienced players in the Polish national team at the (relatively) grand old age of 32. Kraków was the capital of the Kingdom of Poland, and the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth until 1596. In that year the site of Polish government was moved to Warsaw due to its more central geographical position in the Polish state. Despite this Kraków contined to be an important centre of Polish learning and culture. Indeed it was here in 1794 that Polish general Tadeusz Kościuszko launched an uprising against the final partitioning of the Commonwealth.
‘Wasyl’ like Kościuszko before him has given his all for the national cause. Starting off his career at Hutnik Kraków he then played for several top Polish sides before moving to Belgian giants Anderlecht in 2007. With the team from Brussels he has won two Belgian league championships and epresented the Polish national team 60 times. A combative defender known for his physical strength Wasilewski will give his all to ensure the Commonwealth prospers.
Taras Mykhalyk (Dynamo Kyiv and Ukraine)
Mykhalyk comes from the tiny North-West Ukrainian town of Lyubeshiv in the province of Volhynia. During the Commonwealth there was nothing much in the town apart from a school run by the Piarist order, famous for educating poor children. The young Mykhalyk left Lyubeshiv to study in the provincial capital Luts’k in 2001 and was soon spotted by a scout from the now defunct CSKA Kyiv. In 2005 the mighty Dynamo Kyiv came a-calling, the team Mykhalyk plays for until the present day. A tough versatile performer in midfield and defence Myhalyk almost left for AC Milan in 2008 but stayed in the Ukrainian capital. Indeed he is known as the ‘Ukrainian Gattuso.’ A regular for the Ukrainian national team, Myhalyk would represent the Commonwealth with pride.
Alexander Hleb (BATE Borisov and Belarus)
Perhaps the most technically gifted player of the Commonwealth XI, and the only one from Belarus, Alexander Hleb has had a long and sucessful career at several of Europe’s largest clubs. Hleb hails from the Belarus capital of Minsk, a town which was the capital of a Commonwealth province and an important economic and cultural centre. Like the rest of the Commonwealth it suffered tough times in the 17th and 18th centuries and eventually became a part of the Russian Empire in 1793.
Hleb started his career at BATE Borisov as a 17 year old but made his name with five successful seasons at VFB Stuttgart between 2000 and 2005. He’s best known in Britain for his three year spell at Arsenal from 2005-8, before less successful, injury-filled spells at Barcelona, VFB Stuttgart (again), Birmingham and VFL Wolfsburg. Slightly unorthodox in style, but blessed with great vision and able to direct attacking play, Hleb would create the chances for the Commonwealth’s strikers. Now back at BATE Borisov and playing regularly, the Commonwealth would definitely benefit from his presence.
Maor Meliksson (Valenciennes and Israel)
The Polish-Lithuanian commonwealth was the home of the largest Jewish population in Early-Modern Europe. Throughout the Middle Ages Poland and Lithuanian promoted Jewish settlement in its territories as a means of improving commerce. Although there were periods of lesser and greater tolerance Jewish life in the Commonwealth thrived. Poland-Lithuania’s Jews would go on to suffer much worse under the differing partitioning powers, especially under the rule of Tsarist Russia. Jews though played a crucial role in Polish-Lithuanian life, a situation which was only brought to a definitive end by the Holocaust.
Maor Meliksson’s mother was born in the western Polish town of Legnica and emigrated to Israel as a child. Meliksson comes from the central Israeli town of Yavne and went on to play for Beitar Jerusalem, Maccabi Haifa and Hapoel Be’er Sheva before moving to Wisła Kraków in January 2011. Meliksson drove Wisła to the Polish championship in the summer of 2011 and was named the Polish league’s discovery of the season. Meliksson almost decided to play for the Polish national team in September 2011 but decided to committ his future to Israel in early 2012. Possessing skill, strength and pace and useful in front of goal Meliksson can spur the Commonwealth on to future glory.
Anatoliy Tymoschuk (Captain) (Bayern Munich and Ukraine)
Anatoliy Tymoschuk hails from the western Ukrainian city of Luts’k, capital of the Volhynia province and has played a central role for several high quality European clubs and his national side. Luts’k is an old city which played an important role in the Grand Duchy of Lithuania and then the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. In 1429 it famously held a ‘Conference of Monarchs’ at which the Holy Roman Emperor and the King of Hungary both attended. At the conference an unbelievable 1400 sheep were consumed daily, it must have been quite a feast! The town’s golden period unfortunately ended after the Khmeltnytskyi rising in the mid-17th century when the town was sacked and thousands were slaughtered. It still however plays an important administrative role in today’s western Ukraine.
‘Timo’ started his career at his home town club Volyn Luts’k before moving on to Shaktar Donetsk in 1998, a club he would stay at for the best part of a decade. In 2007 he was transferred to Zenit St. Petersburg and went on to lift the UEFA Cup trophy in his first season at the club. In 2009 Timo moved onto German giants Bayern Munich and, although not featuring that regularly for Bayern still started in central defence in their Champions’ League Final loss to Chelsea last spring.
Timo, unlike the Conference of Monarchs, is a no-nonsense defensive midfielder who does the simple things well and consistently puts in a good shift on the pitch. He is famous for his tackling which often saves the national team when the chips are down. When the Commonwealth requires someone to do the dirty work to preserve its success, Timo can be relied upon. An inspirational captain he will ensure the team is well drilled.
Edgaras Česnauskis (FC Rostov and Lithuania)
The Commonwealth’s left-winger, and only Lithuanian, is FC Rostov’s Edgaras Česnauskis. Edgaras comes from the tiny city of Kursenai, close to the Latvian border. Kursenai is most famous as the site of a residence of the Lithuanian Grand Duke in the 15th century. Edgaras is one of the top-players in the Lithuanian national side, having amassed over 40 international appearances so far. He started his career with the current Lithuanian champions FK Ekranas before playing for, amongst others, Dynamo Kyiv and Dynamo Moscow. Currently a regular for Russian Premier League side FC Rostov, Edgaras is a predominantly left-footed, left-sided player who can cross and dribble well and has an eye for goal. As someone who takes a mean set-piece, the Commonwealth’s strikers will be relying on him to provide them with an array of chances.
Robert Lewandowski (Borussia Dortmund and Poland)
Robert Lewandowski was born in Warsaw, the former capital of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth and the current capital of the Polish state. Warsaw was incorporated by the Polish crown in 1526 and it became the Commonwealth’s seat of government in 1596. As the centre of a large state Warsaw’s population rose to 120,000 in 1792 and it became an important city of learning and culture. At the same time its political weight meant the city was ransacked a number of times by invading armies, including the Swedes in the mid-17th century. After the first partition of Poland in 1772, Warsaw became the centre of a reform movement to run Poland more efficiently. It was here for example that the first European constitution was proclaimed on 3 May 1791. Unfortunately, soon afterwards the Commonwealth ceased to exist.
‘Lewy”s rise is almost as meteoric as that of Warsaw’s within the commonwealth. Starting out as a junior at Varsovia Warszawa, he was sold by Legia’s second team to 3rd level side Znicz Pruszków in 2006 for a measly £1,000. Lewandowski showed immediately at Znicz that he had an unerring knack of finding the net, and, after 36 goals in 59 games, was sold to Polish giants Lech Poznań. After two goal-filled seasons with Lech, Borussia Dortmund came a-knocking, paying £3.8 million for his services. Lewy has gone on to score for fun for Borussia, teaming up well with his Polish national team-mates Jakub Błaszczykowski and Łukasz Piszczek, in the process winning two German championships and excelling in the Champions League. One of the hottest striking properties in Europe at the moment, Lewy, apart from being a superb finisher, is adept at bringing others into play and possesses good strength. Lewandowski would make sure that other European nations would not take the Commonwealth lightly.
Jakub Vojtuš (Inter Milan and Slovakia)
Moving away from the beating heart of the Commonwealth our last two team members come from its very periphery. First up is Jakub Vojtuš who comes from the sleepy eastern Slovak town of Spišská Nová Ves, close to the Slovak-Polish border. In 1412 the Hungarian crown was in financial strife and so decided to pawn 16 rich salt-producing towns to the Polish Kingdom in return for a loan of 37,000 Prague Groschen. The debt was never repaid and the towns, including Spišská Nová Ves (SNV), remained a part of Poland and the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth until 1772.
Vojtuš is a Slovakian wunderkind who started out in the youth system of FK Spišská Nová Ves and moved to the current Slovak champions MŠK Žilina when he was 13 years old. He went on to become the second youngest debutant in the Slovak top league in 2009 at just over 16 years of age. In February 2010 Vojtuš turned down the likes of Manchester United, Real Madrid and Barcelona to sign for Inter Milan. Despite some injury problems Vojtuš has prospered in Inter’s youth system and reserve teams, but still has not made an appearance in Serie A. To get experience of first team football Vojtuš is currently on loan at Croatian Prva liga strugglers NK Zagreb. A regular fixture of the Slovakian U-21 side, Vojtuš is strong, great in the air, technically gifted and is a talented finisher. Although yet to prove himself on the big European stage, Vojtuš would provide youthful enthusiasm to the Commonwealth’s ranks.
Artjoms Rudņevs (Hamburger SV and Latvia)
Our final player, Atjoms Rudņevs, hails from the south-eastern Latvian city of Daugavpils. Latvia’s second largest city, Daugavpils was incorporated in 1561 into the Grand Duchy of Lithuania and subsequently became a part of the Commonwealth. The town eventually rose to being the capital of the Polish-Lithuanian Inflanty province in 1620. As an important north-eastern Commonwealth outpost Daugavpils was a centre of education but its border location also meant it experienced the wrath of foreign invaders including Ivan the Terrible in 1577 and Swedish armies in the mid-17th century. During the first partition of 1772 the Commonwealth lost Daugavpils for good.
Rudi got his first break at his hometown team (and current Latvian champions) FC Daugava at the age of 18. After two relatively successful seasons for Daugava he made his way to Hungarian side Zalaegerszegi TE in 2009. After a goal-filled season at ZTE he became Robert Lewandowski’s replacement at Lech Poznań. Rudi was a massive hit with the side from Poznań, none more so than in September 2010 when he scored a sensational hat-trick in Lech’s 3-3 away draw in Juventus’ Stadio delle Alpi. His success at Lech draw the attention of bigger European clubs and last summer Rudi moved to the Bundesliga side Hamburger SV, in the process becoming the first Latvian player to appear in the top German league. Rudi has continued to score in Germany, with 11 goals in 27 appearances so far this season and has linked up well with HSV’s Rafael Van der Vaart. Rudņevs eye for goal, strength and general link-up play will make the Commonwealth’s opponents quake in their boots.
The nations of the Commonwealth may have gone their seperate ways but we’ve seen that if they worked together on the football pitch they would be a match for many. Considering the fact that none of the countries are pulling up trees on their own maybe the idea of putting this side together isn’t so potty after all. Well, we can but dream anyway.
Chris writes more about Polish football on rightbankwarsaw.wordpress.com