As the sun sets on Poland’s campaign at UEFA Euro 2016, one man still shines brightly and he goes by the name Jakub Blaszczykowski more popularly known as ‘Kuba’. Blaszczykowski has been the national team’s standout performer scoring 2 crucial goals and setting up another in 4 matches. For the quarter-final, the stage was set for the former captain to etch his name in history books as one of the greatest players to ever don the national shirt.
After 120 gruelling minutes of football, it all came down to one kick of the football and it was not to be for the national hero as he was denied by Rui Patricio. One can only imagine how heartbreaking it would be to be so close to eternal glory and yet fall short. It could have happened to any one of the 11 Polish players but I’m glad it happened to Kuba. I’m not sure if any other player would have the mental grit to recover from such a devastating blow. Kuba’s story is one of immense hard work, mental grit, and the sheer desire to succeed.
Jakub was born the Silesian village of Truskolasy and he started his footballing journey with his local club Rakow. Tragedy struck the promising youngster’s career and life two years later in September 1996 when he witnessed a tragic incident. His father stabbed his mother to death leaving him and his brother, Dawid, in shock. His father was sent to prison for his crime and it was Kuba’s grandmother who took care of the two brothers.
The personal tragedy took its toll on him and he went as far as giving up football. However, an intervention from his uncle, Jerzy Brzczek, a former Poland football team captain, gave Kuba the motivation to return to football and he hasn’t looked back since.
His determination to succeed was incredible. He worked his way through the lower leagues in Poland and with the help of his uncle he got a trial with Wisla Kraków who were playing in Ekstraklasa – the top division in Poland. In his first season with Wisla, he helped them to a league title and in the second season the club finished as runners-up. The 2006-07 season was his last season in Poland and he marked it by winning Canal+'s "Football Oscar" for the best midfielder in Ekstraklasa.
In 2007, he moved to Borussia Dortmund and was named the club’s best player in his debut season and later he became an integral part of the Jurgen Klopp revolution. Mind it, Klopp sold a lot of players who were there at the club prior to his arrival and Kuba was one of the very few who survived. He went on to win two Bundesliga titles among other trophies with Dortmund and was a starter in the UEFA Champions League final in 2013.
On the international stage, he earned his first cap against Saudi Arabia in 2006. However, an injury before the final squad for the 2006 World Cup was announced ruled him out of the tournament and then two years later he missed Euro 2008 through yet another injury. The injuries didn’t hold him back and he remained an integral member of the Polish team and in 2010 he wore the captain’s armband for the first time. His long wait to represent Poland in an international tournament ended in 2012 when his country hosted the Euro and it must have been a proud moment for him to lead his team out in front of the Polish fans as the captain.
The ordeals that Kuba went through is impossible for most of us to fathom but the grit he has shown to overcome his disturbing past and become a fan favourite for his club and country shows his quality as a player and a person. Just before the start of Euro 2012, he learned of his father’s demise and even though he was not in touch with his father for 16 years, Kuba attended the funeral to honour the man who killed his mother.
Even today, Kuba remembers his mother fondly and dedicates every goal he scores in her memory by looking up to the skies.
Even though he missed a crucial penalty for his country during Euro 2016, the Polish fans and players alike know that Kuba will power through this phase of his life. He will overcome this disappointment and come back stronger than ever before. After all, he has been through worse in his life.
Take a bow ‘Jakub Blaszczykowski’ you are an inspiration and role model for not only many aspiring footballer, but to the world as a whole.