Football: What to expect from new Poland boss Santos?

Photo: Alex Livesey - UEFA/UEFA via Getty Images

Former Portugal boss Fernando Santos, 68, has officially been unveiled as the new Polish national team coach. He parted company, after eight years at the helm, with Portugal, following defeat to Morocco in the World Cup quarter-finals.

Santos led Portugal to the 2016 European Championship — the country's first international trophy — and the inaugural Nations League title in 2019. He also coached Greece at Euro 2012 and the 2014 World Cup, leading the team to the knockout stages for the first time in their history.

He has faced plenty of criticism for his conservative tactics (particularly given Portugal’s attacking firepower) and trying to shoehorn star players into the team at previous tournaments.

However, he showed particularly during the Qatar World Cup that he is not afraid to take bold decisions when he dropped capatina and icon Cristiano Ronaldo when he felt the striker was inhibiting the team. He also opted for the inexperienced Diogo Costa over the 100-plus capped Rui Patricio. Both were potentially risky decisions and largely deemed to have paid off.

Prior to being eliminated by Morocco they appeared to have struck a good balance between defence and attack, particularly when his side demolished Switzerland 6-1 in the knockout stages.

Santos will face a relatively straightforward induction period. Poland were drawn in Group E of Euro 2024 qualifying, where they will face the rather unintimidating prospect of the Czech Republic, Albania, Faroe Islands and Moldova.

Given the accusations of overly defensive football levelled at Czesław Michniewicz (his predecessor), one of Santos’ primary tasks will be to rectify that and instil a more positive approach.

Michniewicz’s post became virtually untenable after star striker Robert Lewandowski said he would have to reconsider playing for a national team that had become, in his opinion, overly pragmatic.

On the pitch there will also be plenty of issues for Santos to get to grips with. The national team appears incapable of meaningful ball retention against anyone except sub-par sides. They have never really found a suitable formula to ensure Lewandowski is not isolated in attack. The midfield tends to suffer from a lack of creativity. The squad currently contains no wide players capable of beating a man. At the back - Jakub Kiwior aside - it is a creaking defence.

The Polish FA opted not to extend the contract of former coach Czesław Michniewicz despite reaching the knockout rounds at the 2022 World Cup in Qatar for the first time in 36 years. Michniewicz's contract ended December 31.

Fernando Santos’ first match in charge will be away to Czech Republic on March 24, as Poland get the Euro 2024 qualifying campaign underway.

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