The Polish first division, or Ekstraklasa as it’s officially known, may not be considered one of the elite leagues in Europe but with the increasing reputation of the Polish national side as well as Legia Warsaw’s forays into the UEFA Champions League, Polish clubs deserve some recognition for their improvements in player development in recent years. Players like Robert Lewandowski, Jakub Blaszczykowski and Arkadiusz Milik all cut their teeth in the Ekstraklasa before moving on to the big leagues in European football, making the league an exciting place to observe young talent. None more eye-catching at the moment than Legia Warsaw’s Sebastian Szymanski.
The 19 year old attacking midfielder has not taken long to establish himself as an important player in Legia Warsaw’s first team as a chief playmaker. Having also made the Polish World Cup preliminary 35-man squad it won’t be long before Szymanski is a regular for the Polish national side as well as being touted as a possible transfer to Europe’s elite leagues. But what is it that makes the 19 year old from Biala Podlaska so special? We take a closer look.
Young footballers can often be thrown around in many positions, filling gaps where their team needs them but only the best are utilised so widely because of their enviable talent. Whether as an attacking midfielder, a central controlling player or playing in a wide role, Sebastian Szymanski provides the goods for his team in the form of goals and assists. His track record of doing so from different positions is an indicator of both Szymanski’s quality and maturity.
Quality is obvious in technical ability but knowing how to pass and shoot is no use without the when and why, this is where maturity can be a huge asset for a young player. Luckily for Szymanski he has vision and timing above most his age.
The most accurate way of figuring out who is a team’s best player isn’t always who is scoring the goals or who looks most skilful and flashy in possession, rather the best player is typically the one who is trusted most by their teammates to pass to. Watch Barcelona and all of their players look for Lionel Messi in possession, not just because he is their best goal scorer but because his qualities make him the team’s creative hub. Watching Legia Warsaw, Sebastian Szymanski is a player trusted more than most by his teammates, when he’s available they pass to him. This says a whole lot more about the 19 year old than any stats can. It’s Szymanski’s end product though that has helped create this trust, the 19 year old can be deadly with the ball at his feet and his head on a swivel.
While playmaker may be his chief role for his team, Szymanski has the ability to knock a few past the keeper himself when in position, an important trait for an aspiring young attacking midfielder. Whether it be set-pieces, long range shots or even headed goals, Szymanski has got the lot in his locker which makes him not only a very exciting young prospect but a very versatile footballer.
Headed goals aren’t something you expect from a 5’7” creative midfield player who spends most of his time delivering crosses and aerial passes for a teammate to head, yet the proof exists as you’ll see below that Szymanski can finish with his head to add to his goal scoring arsenal which already includes powerful long range shots and clever free-kicks. The ability to score from open play gives Szymanski the ability to play as a second striker, playing-off of a number 9 and making late runs into space around the penalty area.
Not many 19 year old players would be entrusted with free-kick and corner-kick duties for a senior team but having established himself as a more than capable taker of both aforementioned set-pieces, Szymanski’s superb talent for such situations are evident in almost every appearance he makes.
Szymanski has a favouring for hitting free-kicks toward the far post, often bouncing off the ground along its way. That might seem counterproductive and favourable for the opposition’s goalkeeper but if it’s done correctly this type of free-kick is hated by goalkeepers. The reason being that it causes so much confusion, the goalkeeper doesn’t know whether to come out and claim the ball, wait for it on his line or let his defence deal with it. This technique again displays Szymanski’s vision and maturity.
Szymanski isn’t the type to stand with hands on hips while his side are out of position, an accusation often made about players of his ilk. There is plenty of evidence that Szymanski loves a tackle and is always willing to dig-in for his team to win the ball back.
The 19 year old isn’t selfish in possession either, always playing with his head up to pick out the best option in attack. This team-first mentality is another sign of maturity in the young midfielder and sets him apart from many players his age.
These attributes and traits make Szymanski a dream to play with, something usually said about cultured, mature footballers who are in their prime or latter years as a professional. For it to be so obvious in a 19 year old is rare indeed and may elevate Szymanski’s profile above most of his generation when scouts of the biggest and best of Europe come looking for Ekstraklasa’s best young talent.
Watching Sebastian Szymanski, it’s hard to believe he’s only 19. His maturity is evident in both the way he works for his team and by the fact that his teammates trust him to dictate the team’s attacking phases. He plays with a tenacity and directness that makes him very exciting to watch and is a player that fans of most teams across Europe would be more than happy to see at their club.
Legia Warsaw have not qualified for the Champions League for the 2018/19 season but Szymanski’s talents are likely to be on display in the Ekstraklasa as well as in the Europa League, not to mention possibly Polish international games as they look to rebuild after a disappointing World Cup appearance this summer. The young lad looks well worth the watch.