Jakub Wawrzyniak doesn’t mince his words as he talks of his desire to exact revenge on Greece in Poland’s Group A opener on Friday after the defender’s doping ordeal during his spell with Panathinaikos. Words: Kevin Azzopardi

Almost three years have elapsed since Jakub Wawrzyniak was forced to return to his Polish club Legia Warsaw after a traumatic stint with Panathinaikos but the towering defender is still hurt by the way he was treated during his time in Greece.

On June 4, 2009, the Greek league initially suspended Wawrzyniak for three months after he tested positive for a substance which, according to reports at the time, was not prohibited by the World Anti-Doping Agency, but the ban was later increased to one year, prompting Panathinaikos to pass up the option of making the player’s move permanent.

Wawrzyniak always maintained his innocence and he was effectively vindicated by the ruling of the Court of Arbitration for Sport which reduced his punishment to the original three-month ban on appeal.

The 28-year-old has come through that dark episode, reviving his career with Legia Warsaw to the point that he’s been included in Poland’s final squad for Euro 2012.

And the draw has given Wawrzyniak added motivation to make his mark at the European Championships, what with co-hosts Poland facing Greece in Group A along with Russia and the Czech Republic.

It’s not everyday that a player who has served a doping suspension speaks publicly about his harrowing experience but somewhat surprisingly it was Wawrzyniak himself who broached the subject when fielding questions from the international media in the build-up to Euro 2012.

“After my unhappy spell with Panathinaikos, the only way to move to another foreign team is by performing consistently well for my club, Legia Warsaw, and the Polish national side,” Wawrzyniak replied when asked if he still harboured ambitions of playing outside Poland.

“I would like to play overseas and give it another go. I returned to play in Poland not for purely football-related reasons.

“I had a problem with doping in Greece. I’m not afraid to address this topic, even if it can be embarrassing. The way I was treated and forced to return to Poland was brutal.

“I know this may seem absurd but I was innocent. Even the head of the Polish anti-doping agency supported me when I appealed my ban at the CAS in Lausanne.”

Although Wawrzyniak has moved on from his doping ordeal, he is too much of a realist to discard the repercussions the negative headlines may have had on his career, especially his prospects of earning a move to a top club.

“We can never discover whether this episode (doping) has had a negative effect on my career,” Wawrzyniak said. “Sometimes in life, it’s better to take two steps back in order to make three steps forward. In my case, it was like that.

“I can only say that what happened to me in Greece has given me a lot of strength... the entire football world was against me at the time.

“And I do believe that my participation at Euro 2012 can be the launchpad for a better future.”

Has Wawrzyniak been made aware of any potential interest from overseas clubs since rejoining Legia three years ago?

“In today’s world, a lot of the stories in the media are pure speculation,” he said. “Four years ago, I came across a report claiming that Juventus were interested in me. Although I’m confident in my abilities, I knew at the time that Juve were too big a club for me.

“I received a phone call from a journalist about it and I just joked about the story.”

Balanced group

Turning his attention to Euro 2012, Wawrzyniak is upbeat about Poland’s chances of advancing from Group A. “I think the teams in our group have an equal chance of going through,” Wawrzyniak said.

“Group A may seem easy compared to the others but the expectations for the Polish team are higher this time around because we’re co-hosting the tournament.

“I believe we have a good chance of advancing from our group.

“All the players in the squad are fully aware of our chances and the fans’ expectations. We want to make the most of this opportunity.”

Wawrzyniak was hard-pressed to select the team he regards as the favourites in Poland’s group. “In our group, it’s very hard to pinpoint the clear favourites,” he claimed.

“I believe that, after the draw, all four nations were happy with the outcome. In all of the four countries in Group A, the fans believe that their team is the favourite and that they shouldn’t fail to qualify for the quarter-finals.

“If I had to name one team as favourites, I would opt for Russia.”

Good defending is key to Poland’s hopes of reaching the KO stages, according to Wawrzyniak. “We’re not among the favourites,” he said.

“To succeed, we must be very solid at the back because we have strikers in the team who know how to score.

“The make-up of our team has changed drastically since the qualifying campaign for the World Cup.

“Every team has its key players and (coach Franciszek) Smuda has changed the group leaders in the national squad.”

Given what Wawrzyniak went through in Greece, it’s no surprise that he sees Poland’s match against them as a chance to gain a measure of revenge.

“I will not hide the fact that this match (against Greece) will be special for me,” he reminisced. “I was delighted when, after the draw, I learned that our first group game was against Greece.

“I will be looking to get my revenge in that match.”

Invited to describe the attributes of the Polish team, Wawrzyniak replied: “We are a team, responsible and convinced of our strengths.”

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