We didn’t just damage ourselves, we wrecked his career
#5: TOMASZ FRANKOWSKI
Signed: January 2006 from Elche, £1,400,000
Left: August 2007, contract cancelled
He was: The bottle of Advocaat that some joker brings to a Christmas party
I’ve often said that unless there are serious extenuating circumstances, the minimum aim for Wolves in the second tier should always to be to make a serious challenge for the top six. 2005/6 was no exception as Glenn Hoddle prepared for his first full season at this level since 1992/3 with Swindon Town. We made a reasonably good start, always being in and around the playoff picture, but a run of two wins in twelve games – peppered with draws, as ever under Hoddle – between the end of September and mid-December undermined this progress. It was apparent that Hoddle was keen on adding a striker to the squad – at the end of the summer transfer window we had bid around £3m for Derby’s Grzegorz Rasiak, only for him to join Tottenham instead. The popular Vio Ganea had come back from a long term knee injury and shown some good signs, but Hoddle was indelibly wedded to a 4-3-3 system at this stage and ever the expert on man management, had gone on record as saying that he was dubious that Ganea could play that role as well as questioning his general fitness. Carl Cort was being bizarrely deployed on the right of that front three and in any case picked up an injury in mid-October which would keep him out for three months – as it happens, post-injury he would go on to score a mere two goals in the remainder of his Wolves career. Despite having scored 38 goals in his previous two Championship campaigns, Hoddle also thought it was a good idea to predominantly use Kenny Miller in wide areas. As a hangover from the Dave Jones days – if Hoddle was the king of dreadful man management, then DJ wasn’t a bad Prince Regent – when Miller had fallen out of favour in the Premier League and asked to be transfer listed, there was no prospect of the Scot signing a new contract and with his deal set to run out in the summer of 2006 it was clear that he needed to be replaced soon. Indeed a pre-contract deal between Miller and Celtic was announced on 19 January 2006.
Hoddle initially targeted Izale McLeod from MK Dons and after tortuous negotiations a bid of £600,000 rising to £1,400,000 was agreed, but having become frustrated with MK’s valuation – unlike them to know the cost of everything but the value of nothing – we had moved on to an alternative and cancelled the deal. That alternative was Tomasz Frankowski. He first arrived on the radar of English fans (and, I suspect, Hoddle himself) by scoring for Poland against England at Old Trafford in qualification for the 2006 World Cup, during which he was Poland’s top scorer. He was prolific for Wisla Krakow in domestic Polish football, scoring over 100 goals for them in seven seasons before making the move to Elche in the Spanish second tier in the summer of 2005. He had made a good start there, too – eight goals in 14 appearances. Negotiations were once again protracted with Jez Moxey personally making more than one trip over to Spain before the deal was eventually completed on 25 January for a fee of £1,400,000.
As we have seen so often already in this series, alarm bells were ringing about several aspects of this deal before he’d even kicked a ball for us. That fee seemed very steep for a player of Frankowski’s age (31 when he signed for us) and profile relative to the market at the time, and was sure to represent dead money with no prospect of getting much of it back at any stage. Secondly, as we have already mentioned, Hoddle had cast aspersions on the ability of Vio Ganea to play as a lone striker. That was a subject which was very much up for debate at the time – personally I felt he was doing well enough and it was impossible not to like the guy – but if that was the manager’s opinion, then fine. That’s what he gets paid for. But why, if that is your viewpoint – and you are presumably making it from the position that Ganea lacked the physical attributes and ability to hold the ball up to be effective in that role – are you signing a striker who is actually shorter than Ganea and a mere year younger? All the reports we had suggested that Frankowski was very much a ‘poacher’ type forward…so exactly the same as Ganea. He was also absolutely nothing like either Rasiak or McLeod, Hoddle’s previous two striker targets, so this approach seemed entirely haphazard. Thirdly, our parachute payments following our relegation from the Premier League in 2004 were due to run out. We knew very well that there would be very limited or no external funding from Sir Jack Hayward in the future – understandably so, he had more than done his bit and was into his 80s by now. This money was all that we had left. Using all of it on an unproven player in this league and indeed English football as a whole, with no resale value, when we were already resigned to losing our best forward for nothing in a matter of months – it was all just massively reckless. We were gambling everything on this transfer working out immediately.
Frankowski made his debut as a second half substitute against Manchester United in the FA Cup, with the game already gone and us 3-0 down (kudos to Hoddle for sending us out against United with a central midfield of Darren Anderton, Paul Ince and Mark Kennedy – feel the raw pace and energy there from three men with a combined age of 101). He almost made an immediate impact – having a snapshot from the edge of the area whistle inches wide. Had that gone in, then who knows. Regardless of the merits of the Polish top flight and the Spanish second tier, you don’t score the volume of goals that he had over the previous few years if you’re an absolute no hoper. Unfortunately it didn’t go in and from there on in, he paid the price for our torpid football. Any striker would have struggled in this setup under Hoddle as the emphasis was on tepid possession in worthless areas, there was a lack of pace throughout the entire team and whoever was tasked with playing as the sole striker was left totally isolated, with the wide players stuck right out on the touchline. Our toothless approach is best summed up by the statistic that between 22 November and the end of the season, we scored 0 or 1 in a game 21 times out of 27 games. Imagine an entire Formula One race behind the safety car and you have a reasonable approximation of what it is like to watch a Glenn Hoddle team.
As time went on, there were no goals (and precious few opportunities to score) for Frankowski and pressure on him continued to grow. After all, he was our last hope, “the missing piece of the jigsaw” as Hoddle himself had put it (NB Glenn – if a piece of a jigsaw is missing, you’ve just lost it somewhere in your house. You already own it. You can’t nip down to WH Smith and buy one jigsaw piece. An excellent metaphor once again, it’s easy to see why ITV employ you). His general play wasn’t terrible in of itself – he cleverly won a penalty at home to Cardiff which demonstrated that he wasn’t just a tap-in merchant – but as previously stated, physically he simply wasn’t compatible with this role. If we really did have to play this way, we needed a strong front man – a Chris Martin of his time, let’s say – who could bring others in to play. Frankowski was never going to be able to do this and in any case, we rarely if ever got players up to support the striker anyway. Not surprising when your central midfield is largely made up of footballing geriatrics. The league position remained fairly constant during this period, bobbing between 7th and 8th but this was deceptive, we were rapidly falling well behind the points tallies of those sitting in the top six. A run of seven points from seven games in March and April sealed our fate and by Good Friday we were mathematically out of playoff contention.
At teatime on Good Friday itself, with the earlier results in the day confirming that our season was effectively over, we played Watford at Molineux in a televised fixture. Moxey had delivered some fairly pointed criticism in Hoddle’s direction in his programme notes and the atmosphere was now firmly against the manager, although the South Bank singing “Paul Ince for manager” during this game wasn’t their finest hour. Back to the action (such as it was) on the pitch and Frankowski set up an early goal for loanee Jérémie Aliadière with a nice through ball. At 1-0 up he was played clean through, just inside the Watford half and onside. 40 yards or so to run, just Ben Foster to beat. It seemed then and we can pretty much definitively conclude now, that on a run of 13 games and counting without a goal, he had too much time to think about it. He did the right thing, ran in on Foster, offered a little dummy, started to sit the keeper down…and hit it limply straight at him. That was it, his Wolves career and the narrative surrounding it all settled there and then, inside around six seconds. His confidence was visibly totally gone after that, he was more or less walking around in a daze which everyone could see except Hoddle who didn’t replace him until the final 18 minutes of the game. He started the final two games of the season against Brighton and Norwich without really threatening to break his duck in either of them and finished the season with 0 goals in 17 games.
A summer of turmoil followed. Ganea, Miller and Aliadière all left upon the expiry of their deals to leave our striking options looking extremely thin. Clearly all our money had been exhausted and we would be very much cutting our cloth from here on in. The anticipation initially was that Hoddle would be sacked after an exhaustingly dull season which had ended in failure, but it transpired that we couldn’t afford to do so; his one year rolling contract entitling him to a level of salary which would be beyond our means to cover while also looking to source a replacement. The underwhelming Ki-Hyeon Seol and prize asset Joleon Lescott were sold, while experienced players in the form of Kennedy, Ince and Colin Cameron also left with no further contract being offered – not that any of those three were any particular loss at this stage, but it was leaving us with precious little depth and none of this money recouped and saved appeared to be available. We weren’t signing anyone. Through all this time Frankowski was still here, reputation and self-belief shattered, a £1,400,000 asset that was practically worthless now. When I say “still here”, I mean that in a literal sense too as his terrible time here had led him to miss out on Poland’s World Cup squad, despite his exploits in qualifying. There was finally some good news on 1 July when around ten minutes before the England vs Portugal game was due to kick off, Hoddle resigned as manager. The whole summer had been a cowardly act on his part, he obviously knew the financial situation but was refusing to do anything to source players within our new budget – all he had done in two months was agree new deals for his backroom staff (including his since sadly deceased brother) and oddly agreed to offer Denes Rosa a three year deal rather than the two year contract which had already been provisionally arranged during his loan spell. But he was gone, and we could all rejoice. Mick McCarthy arrived around three weeks later and it was never likely that Frankowski was going to be his cup of tea. Jay Bothroyd, Craig Davies and Jemal Johnson were signed to boost our threadbare forward department and pushed Frankowski well down the pecking order. He was on the bench as an unused sub for our league opener at Plymouth and played 65 minutes of our League Cup tie at Chesterfield. Mick had evidently seen enough and loaned him out for a year to Tenerife in the Spanish second tier.
Three goals in 19 games at Tenerife were insufficient to earn him a permanent deal there and he returned to Wolves for pre-season training ahead of the 2007/8 season. He was challenged by Mick to earn his move elsewhere, but unfortunately picked up a knee injury and eventually we came to a settlement on his deal on 31 August 2007 (his representatives finally seeing sense having spent the summer refusing any such talks). He spent six months out of the game before joining MLS outfit Chicago Fire, yet only scored in one of his 17 games (a brace) and was subsequently released to free up salary under the league’s rules. He returned to Poland in December 2008 and joined Jagiellonia Bialystok, his first and hometown club. He had a late career flourish back home – notching a better than one in three record in this spell and finished as top scorer in the league in 2010/11. He retired at the end of the 2012/13 season after becoming the third highest scorer off all time in the Ekstraklasa.
This was just a terrible use of resources all round from Hoddle. Frankowski was obviously not going to be a better fit for his preferred system than anything we already had, but he persisted both with the deal and the same tactics. He didn’t even try to get the best out of the player, he just picked him every week and hoped for the best. To use all of our remaining money on this endeavour was, as stated, incredibly reckless and a clear sign that Hoddle had no intention of staying here if we didn’t go up in 2005/6 – what did it matter to him if there was no money left after this transfer, he wasn’t going to be here to deal with the fallout anyway. His sheer arrogance, self-centred nature and total failure to understand what was required in this league were made clear for all to see in this episode. As for the player himself, it is hard not to feel sorry for him. Even in a good team under a good manager there’s a fair chance he simply wasn’t good enough, given his age, natural limitations and lack of exposure to English football, and he really didn’t show enough in his games here to suggest that his failure was entirely down to the massive egotist in the dugout. But this move ruined his one and only shot at going to a World Cup, stopped his career dead for three whole years and means that he’ll always be a punchline in this part of the world. Thanks very much Glenn. Thanks for everything.