If the position in the prestigious Ballon d’Or poll for the best footballer in the world (until 1994 in Europe) of the French magazine France Football should be a measure of a footballer’s fame, then the current gunner Robert Lewandowski, who finished second behind Lionel Messi in 2021, is considered the Polish historical number one .
However, he had two medal predecessors.
The bronze went to midfielder Zbigniew Boniek in 1982, president of the Polish Football Association from 2012 to 2021 and now vice-president of UEFA, and in 1974 to playmaker Kazimierz Deyna, who tragically died in a car accident in 1989 at the age of 42.
He is considered a legend. And Czech expert Jaroslav Vejvoda also contributed to its exceptionality.
He fined him, left him at home
Kazimierz Deyna comes from the north of the country, he joined Legia Warsaw, perhaps the most famous Polish club, in 1966 from LKS Lodz, at the age of nineteen. With the label of enormous talent. At the same time, Czech coach Jaroslav Vejvoda took over the team. A directly fatal connection for both.
Hormones were raging with the young man. “Reckless, that’s what Deyna had a reputation for at the time,” says Bohumil Paukner, Dukla Praha’s top man. He acquired a strong relationship with Polish football during his official stay as a member of the commercial department at the Czechoslovak embassy in Warsaw, and learned a lot about it. About the work of coach Vejvoda and also about Deyn.
The influence of the Czech specialist, who won seven Czechoslovak league titles on the Dukla Praha bench, on the unpolished gem was essential. “It is said that Vejvoda saved Deyn’s career, even the footballer himself admitted this in his autobiography,” says Paukner. He was strict with the young ward, he did not forgive him anything. Talent not talent. “The witnesses recalled how they waited in vain for a long time for one match away from Deyna. He was at some lady’s house somewhere, steaming, missing for a few days,” he continues. He confirmed the reputation of the flamenco.
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But he was a key figure in the team. “Suddenly an officer, the leader of the team, Legion was an army club, he brought Deyna with cheers and a sigh of relief,” recounts Paukner. But coach Vejvoda did not back down. He slapped his star a hefty fine and left him at home. “He didn’t forgive him for anything, which saved his career,” Paukner points out.
Together they celebrated the Polish league title in 1968/1969, after thirteen long years.
For Legia Warsaw, Deyna became an untouchable idol, as evidenced by the fact that his number 10 jersey was hung in the Hall of Fame and removed from the collection for the players’ cabin, no one will ever put it on again. It would be a dishonor to the club’s sanctity.
Two hits in Bydgoszcz
Deyna played twice against the Czechoslovak national team. In November 1974 at the Eden Stadium in Prague, he did not score in a 2:2 draw, but two years earlier in October 1972 in Bydhošt he was on a rampage: in the 0:3 defeat of coach Václav Ježek’s team, he contributed two strikes, the third was added by the fast winger Robert Gadocha.
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But it was Deyna above all that was unwatchable. “Great in all activities,” defender Vladimír Táborský remembers him. “He had exceptional insight, admirable technique, an accurate and surprising shot,” he calculates the strengths of the Polish midfielder. “He was hard to resist,” he emphasizes.
His goals sent the home fans into ecstasy. “It was full in Bydgoszcz, some thirty-five thousand spectators, packed corridors, it was a roar,” remembers Dušan Herda, the forward of the Czechoslovak team. “Deyna was their darling, they roared with excitement every time he touched the ball,” he points out. “He was one of the best footballers in the world in his time,” the 1976 European champion has no doubts.
Elegant with a hard shot
He became a Polish legend – perhaps only Wlodzimierz Lubanski, Zbigniew Boniek and now Robert Lewandowski reached a similar level. “I admired him at the 1974 World Cup, where the Poles had an excellent squad and only unfortunately lost to the German home team in the semi-finals,” he recalls. Nevertheless, the bronze medal is – together with the 1982 World Championship in Spain – a historic success of the Polish national team.
Levý perceived one of the best Polish players of all time even as a coach of Lech Poznaň. “When we played with Legia Warsaw, and those were very heated matches, his name was constantly in the air. He is a true legend of the club,” adds Levý.
His departure from the world also contributes to Deyn’s cult. As a player of the American San Diego Sockers, he immigrated to the USA in 1981, died in a car accident. On the night of August 31 to September 1, 1989, he was returning by car from training. For unknown reasons, he ran into a truck parked in the parking lane at full speed. He was dead on the spot, he was even so disfigured that the police could only identify him by the driver’s license he had with him.
He left at the premature age of 42…
Statue by the stadium
However, he lives on in the hearts of Legia fans to this day. “They will never forget him, he is still an idol for them,” confirms prestigious Polish journalist Dariusz Kurowski. “He has a statue built by the stadium, fresh flowers are always brought to his grave in Warsaw,” he reveals that he is not buried in his native Starogard Gdański, a city forty kilometers south of the Baltic Sea.
- October 23, 1947, Starogard Gdański, Poland – September 1, 1989, San Diego, USA
- Playing career: Wlokniarz Starogard Gdański (1958–1966), LKS Lodž (1966), Legia Varšava (1966–1978), Manchester City / England (1978–1981), San Diego Sockers / USA (1981–1987)
- Polish national team: 1968–1978 (97/41)
- Achievements: third place in the Golden Ball poll for the best European footballer in 1974, bronze at the 1974 World Cup in Germany, gold from the 1972 Olympics in Munich, silver at the 1976 Olympics in Montreal, participant in the 1978 World Cup in Argentina, two-time champion of Poland
The skilful midfielder also tried his hand at the famous English club Manchester City, where he worked in the years 1978-1981. After many futile attempts, the socialist establishment allowed him to leave for a capitalist foreign country, the party authorities were convinced by a severance payment of 100,000 pounds, a huge sum at that time. And especially in currencies, a huge benefit for the socialist economy.
But the tough English game did not suit him, he often sat only on the substitutes’ bench or the coach experimented with him at the point of attack. Even so, in three years in England, he managed a respectable 12 goals in 38 matches as a midfielder.
He fared much better after going to the USA, to the San Diego Sockers, where he also played indoor soccer and also became a legend.