How ‘Nix star ‘won the lottery’ to play with De Bruyne & Ziyech

Trust and belief. They’re big things in football. Just ask Oskar Zawada.

When things aren’t going well at a football club, the coach usually pays the price as nervous or impatient owners desperately seek a response. In Zawada’s case, the Polish striker once even went through four coaches in one season.

Thats crazy for a footballer!“.

He has played for Wolfsburg and FC Twente, but Zawada’s career has had its challenges – going from first-choice striker to third or fourth in the pecking order.

“I didn’t have a place where I could just settle down and play a full season. Or I got injured or had to change club because I didn’t play. It wasn’t like a normal career until now,” Wellington Phoenix striker Zawada told KEEP UP.

Step forward Ufuk Talay and the Phoenix.

With the trust of Talay, Zawada has repaid the faith by scoring in back-to-back Isuzu UTE A-League games to take his tally to five goals through 12 appearances for the season. It comes after the Pole failed to find the net in his first five matches of the campaign.

It’s his best return since 2018-19, when the 26-year-old scored six times in 23 matches for Wisla Plock in Poland’s top-flight.

“I didn’t expect I would move to the A-leagues because I really wanted to go back to Netherlands or Germany but I had a phone call with Ufuk Talay,” he recalled.

“Since the first meeting, he was a smart coach and person. I had trust from the start. I’m really happy and of course in the beginning you don’t trust what everyone will tell you because people tell you many things and then when you arrive somethings cannot happen.

“Everything what the club told me already happened. They were also calm with me at the start when I had five games without a goal. The boss still had belief in me because he analyzed me very well. Now I’m really happy that I can repay him.

It’s a joy to see him smile because he never doubted me. He always tries to make me better. I’m here four months, I’ve developed a lot. Finally, I’ve found my place.

Zawada’s red-hot form has coincided with Wellington’s rise up the Isuzu UTE A-League standings.

His match-winning goals against Sydney FC and Brisbane Roar have sent the Phoenix up to fourth after 12 rounds, ahead of Sunday’s blockbuster showdown with second-placed Central Coast Mariners at Sky Stadium.

“Of course it’s fun when you’re scoring goals. When the team is winning, finally we’ve found good communication in the team,” Zawada said.

“We needed time to understand each other. When you have many new players, it’s not easy to understand each other from the beginning.

Now I have a feeling like you can wake me up in the night and I will know where my team-mates run or how I need to run to get the ball.

Phoenix, the champions?

The off-season was a period of change for Talay’s Phoenix.

Finalists in 2021-22 and Australia Cup semi-finalists, the Phoenix rebuilt following the departures of Reno Piscopo, Jaushua Sotirio, Gael Sandoval, James McGarry and Gary Hooper, with Zawada, Bulgarian attacker Bozhidar Kraev, Brazilian Yan Sasse, Steven Ugarkovic, the returning Kosta Barbarouses and Lucas Mauragis forming a new-look Wellington.

There have been ups and downs this season, as Wellington’s new faces familiarize themselves, but the ‘Nix have shown they can match it with the best in the competition – overturning a two-goal deficit to secure a draw away to league-leading Melbourne City on October 30.

They also eased past Adelaide United 3-1 and crushed Dwight Yorke’s Australia Cup champions Macarthur FC 4-1.

Wellington, and Central Coast have each logged 10 competition points against teams from the top half of the table this season – more than any other teams in the competition.

“I didn’t expect that the quality in the A-League would be so good. Even when I watch my team-mates train, this is really good west European football. I have a lot of respect for the players around me,” said Zawada.

“We have a young squad. This is a bit of a minus because at the start, we made some stupid mistakes. I think this is because of age but we have grown and getting better as a team.

When we stay consistent like this, we have the quality to win the league or to be a top club in this league.

The Phoenix have a shooting accuracy of 55% in 2022-23. It is the club’s highest rate in any of the last 11 campaigns.

After back-to-back 1-0 wins, Wellington will have their sights on a third successive clean sheet; the only previous time they achieved that feat was in February 2010.

“When you play every game and have ball possession 60-70%, it shows the players have quality,” Zawada added. “This is how I see this team.

“Of course, you can have skilful players, but we are in major sport and we have to be smart and fight. Some small things make you win. We still have to work on it. The direction is really good. We have to stay consistent – ​​it’s not easy. If we can do it, we can achieve really good things.

“The first thing is to get to the play-offs. We want to be in highest position in the table, hopefully we can make second or third place. But also, I don’t like to speak like that because in football and life things change really fast. I try to focus on every day.”

‘Like winning the lottery’

Zawada started his senior career at German giants Wolfsburg, and he is still influenced by his life-changing time at Die Wolfe.

In Zawada’s words, “I come from a small village in Poland, from a poor side of Poland”.

So when he joined Wolfsburg as a 16-year-old in 2012, it changed everything.

“For me, moving to Germany was like winning the lottery. I went there to develop as a young footballer,” he said. “Then when I started scoring goals, I had an amazing team who could pass the ball on my head and leg.

“Then I got invited to the first team and start doing well there.”

During his time with Wolfsburg’s youth side, he was teammates with current Borussia Dortmund star and 39-time Germany international Julian Brandt.

He was also in and around the first team, training with the likes of Kevin De Bruyne, Ivan Perisic, Julian Draxler, Andre Schurrle, Bas Dost and Max Kruse.

“It was like living in a dream,” said Zawada.

“But the bad thing was Wolfsburg’s team was the best team in their history I think. Those players, I had to fight with them for a spot in the starting XI and even on the bench. I had Mario Gomez, Bas Dost, Nicklas Bendtner and many, many good players in my position.

“I was also young and not ready to win this battle. Of course, it was a great memory, playing in training camps and friendly games – see how hard you have to work to stay and be at that level. It’s still a very good experience for me.”

Zawada also spent time in the Netherlands with Eredivisie outfit FC Twente.

It was there he teamed up with a young and emerging Hakim Ziyech, who has since gone to play for Ajax, Chelsea and Morocco, who reached the semi-finals at the 2022 FIFA Men’s World Cup.

“Since the first training, I saw he would be a great player,” Zawada said of Ziyech.

“For me, he made even a bigger impression than Kevin De Bruyne if we speak about skills. But maybe De Bruyne is more than a team player.

“I prefer to practice with De Bruyne than Ziyech because he never passed the ball to the strikers so I was getting angry,” he laughed.

“It’s not luck that he is in the place he is right now.”

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