Kazimierz Deyna remembered

By Gary James, Thu 13 October 2011 13:13

Kazimierz Deyna remembered

31 year old Polish World Cup captain Kaziu Deyna arrived in Manchester in November 1978, after an incredible transfer. According to journalist Nick Harris, the whole transfer started as a result of a Barry Davies match commentary on BBC during the 1978 World Cup: “During one of Poland’s early games Davies made an off the cuff comment that Deyna would be interested in playing club football in Western Europe.” According to Harris that comment was heard by another journalist, John Roberts of the Guardian, and he contacted Peter Swales. John Roberts: “He told me City were looking for a midfield player and asked if I knew any who might be available. I mentioned Deyna because I’d heard that BBC commentary.”

On City’s behalf contact was made with the Polish coach Jacek Gmoch and Gmoch told Roberts: “I do not think there would be a great problem for a club like Manchester City to have Deyna. I know he would like to move and Manchester City seems to be the kind of club which would suit him. In my opinion, Deyna has enough stamina and ability to be able to offer at least two seasons in the highest grade of football anywhere in the world. He was feeling down, psychologically, after the World Cup finals, but that was to be expected and he is now as enthusiastic as ever.”

A complicated series of negotiations followed with the Polish Army – Deyna was a player with army side Legia Warsaw – and the Blues ended up paying around £100,000 in medical equipment, white goods, photocopying machines, and US dollars. The American money helped Poland fund the overseas training of their 1980 Olympic athletes.

In 1995 former Chairman Peter Swales looked back on the transfer: “I actually went over to Warsaw. This was when it was an oppressive communist state – not like it is now. All the players were in the army, and I had to see the commanding officer. I remember he brought Deyna in and when he came in he was in his uniform looking very smart. He saluted the colonel and did everything you’re supposed to do when you’re in the army. Within a short while he was making the excuse that he had to go back to training and I though ‘this is terrific… got to get back to training… this is what we want from all our players… this is great’. It looked as if it was the greatest signing ever because he was a great player. But you’re suddenly bringing him from a strict regime to a very loose life.”

When Deyna arrived at Manchester Airport he was greeted by club officials and City fans, and his arrival was perceived as one of the most important transfers by any club during the Seventies. It was anticipated Deyna’s arrival would further push Tony Book’s exciting side forward for glory, however, looking back, Deyna’s City career was not as great as it ought to have been.

The Pole made his debut in the 2-1 defeat at home to Ipswich in November 1978, but he was not a regular member of the side until April, by which time Malcolm Allison was back at Maine Road. During those final games of the season Deyna netted 6 goals in 7 games and seemed to be at the level anticipated, but not everyone was impressed. According to Peter Gardner, writing for the Manchester Evening News, in 1979: “Most of the Football League’s other imported stars settled down with some degree of success. Unfortunately the story for Deyna, arguably the most famous of all the immigrants who were allowed to invade these shores once League barriers were lifted, has been slightly different.

”Criticisms about the wisdom of City importing a foreign player at the wrong end of the age scale were quickly levelled at the Maine Road club. It was suggested that City were misguided in their pursuit of a player whose best days may have been during Poland’s glorious World Cup exploits of 1974.”

Deyna’s early days with the Blues were difficult because, at first, the player could speak no English and adapting to the pace of English football was a struggle, but as those final weeks of the 1978-9 season showed there were glimpses of great ability. It was also clear Deyna possessed terrific vision, something he felt the other City men lacked. Talking in 1979 he claimed: “I came to Manchester with the idea that I would first try to create scoring opportunities for the other players and then, when I settled in, I would try more shots of my own. But there are not many players in the City side who can read my passes. The problem with the forward players is that sometimes, when a good pass is made, they are lost and not sure what to do.”

It is possible Deyna’s language problems may have changed the emphasis of his comment. Maybe the real problem was the speed of the game and his age. A year after arriving he denied he had problems: “I am not a granddad yet. I am capable of playing food football until I am thirty-five. I chose to come to City because of their past reputation and good results in the English League as well as European competitions.”

“There is no substitute for experience. Age is certainly no detriment and I feel the way the English game is played suits my temperament and personality. Realistically, I would have preferred to have been able to leave Poland two or three years earlier, but this was not possible. We had a rule that stipulated no player could leave the country until he had reached the age of thirty. It was then that my former international colleague Lubanski [former Gornik player who had faced the Blues in the ECWC in 1971] left to go to Belgium. However, this rule has now been scrapped. The case of any player wanting to leave Poland is judged on its merits.”

After these rather negative comments he managed six goals in 22 League appearances during the 1979-80 season. Many of those goals were crucial – especially those which brought victory against Middlesbrough and Forest in October 1979 – but City were not having a great time in the League and it was felt Deyna excelled when City were in the top half of the table rather than the bottom. In October 1980 Malcolm Allison was replaced by John Bond as manager. Deyna had only made one full appearance out of a possible ten. The game he played was against Stoke, and Alan Durban Stoke manager commented: “The problem is, Deyna’s on a different wavelength. He’s tuned to Radio Four, and the others are on Radio Luxembourg.”

Under Bond, Deyna had less opportunity to shine and in January 1981 he moved to San Diego Sockers. He continued to play professionally until 1987 and then became a coach in the States. Sadly, in September 1989 he was killed in a car crash in California. It was a tragic end.

Deyna’s name may not be too familiar to many supporters today, however he did have a great international career – earning 102 Polish Caps – and was a very entertaining player. He once told the media: “I don’t need Malcolm Allison to tell me I am a great player. Pele told me I am a great player.” The comment perhaps says more about the situation than the facts. It clearly reveals Deyna was not as happy as had been hoped, but it also recognises that most of Deyna’s real achievements had been significant. The sad fact is they occurred away from England.

Deyna may not have achieved the success at City we all craved and expected, but he did provide a few flashes of genius during his Maine Road career. His name also entered the record books as the last City player to score in European competition prior to the club's return to Europe in 2003-04.

It’s also worth noting that he also appeared in the footballing/wartime film, Escape to Victory, with Mike Summerbee and Sylvester Stallone.

Gary James is the author of Manchester A Football History and Joe Mercer, OBE: Football With A Smile, both available from Amazon.