With Fiorentina’s season having effectively ended months ago, pretty much all that’s kept the fans going at this point is looking at next year. With a host of players at Empoli poised to strut their stuff against the Viola this week—Jacob Rasmussen, Hamed Junior Traorè, Kevin Diks, and Bartłomiej Drągowski are all on loan at the Tuscan club—the real mystery is Polish midfielder Szymon Żurkowski of Górnik Zabrze. We learned a bit about him this past mercato, but it was mostly based on hearsay and YouTube clips.
We can give you a very basic outline of the sort of player he is. Born in Tychy (about 20 km south of Katowice and 80 west of Krakow), he grew up at local club MOSiR Jastrzębie-Zdrój before moving up the road to Gwarek Zabrze as a 14-year-old and then switching to local giants Górnik two years later. He broke into the first team as a 19-year-old and quickly became one of Poland’s most highly-regarded young midfielders. Now in his second season as an undisputed starter, Fiorentina bought him for €4 million this past January and loaned him back to Górnik for the remainder of the season. This year, he’s tallied 5 goals and 3 assists in 34 appearances, although the team has been something of a disappointment.
Now, though, we’ve got a chance to dig in a bit deeper. With help from the brilliant Matthew Santangelo, who’s one of the sharper young calcio minds around, we made contact with Kamil Rogólski, an expert in all things related to Polish football. Kamil was kind enough to answer a few of our questions about Żurkowski, so here are his thoughts.
Viola Nation: What kind of player is Żurkowski? A playmaker, a runner, a passer, a destroyer or some combination?
Kamil Rogólski: First of all: Żurkowski can be easily compared with Krychowiak. I mean, more ability to play in defence and create a kind of connection between formations. Much like Krychowiak, he’s nearer to being a classic 6 than an 8.
VN: What has his form been like this season? Górnik seems to have been up and down; how much of that is tied to Żurkowski?
KR: Żurkowski had weaker form in Autumn. But Górnik Zabrze in general struggled with problems because a group of important players left the club. That’s why Górnik are much weaker than before. Wieteska to Legia, Kurzawa to Amiens and Kądzior to Dinamo Zagreb. Górnik Zabrze are kind of rolling with with some young Polish players, that is to a certain extent their philosophy. And now Górnik pays for it after few transfers out.
VN: Given how awful Fiorentina’s midfield has been this year and the likelihood that all the regulars are on the way out, is Żurkowski ready to step up as a regular contributor in Serie A?
KR: There are always some questions about the difference between Ekstraklasa and Serie A. I think that physically he is ready. Just look how he played for example vs Portuguese stars from U-21. Fiorentina fans should be ready for reception of a talented player with understanding who doesn’t lack skills at this moment but the difference between both competitions can be a problem.
VN: Rafał Wolski and Bartłomiej Dragowski both flamed out in Florence (albeit largely due to circumstances beyond their control). Is there any concern that Żurkowski could follow in their footsteps?
KR: Rafał Wolski is a completely different issue. He is susceptible to injuries, and a very quiet person. Really has a lack of character. Sad but true. Also Wolski moved to Fiorentina after a very serious injury. The big hype before EURO 2012 and the injury meant the agent was desperate for a transfer abroad. Żurkowski’s path runs more naturally.
To sum up, Żurkowski looks like the natural successor to Grzegorz Krychowiak (he’s been called up to the senior Poland squad but has yet to make his debut), a natural fit at the base of midfield with the physical presence and skill to control play and initiate attacks with his reliable and occasionally incisive passing. He’s struggled a bit this year in a team full of young players, but his appearances for the Poland U21s against top opponents make it clear that he’s as ready for Serie A as he can be without having played in the league. Too, he seems better positioned than poor old Rafał Wolski to succeed in Florence.
He seems like the sort of player who’s a perfect fit for a Viola midfield desperately lacking a calm, commanding presence in the regista spot since Milan Badelj left town. Alongside the more dynamic Traorè, he could help create a balanced, physically overpowering midfield that still has plenty of skill; basically, he’s everything Vincenzo Montella could ask for.
I’ll let Hazem Zahab, who also keeps close tabs on the Ekstraklasa, sum things up for me: “Zurkowski is the best up and coming Polish talent coming up. He is soon expected to break into the national team, but for now is killing it in the U21. Trust me you guys are getting a gem.”