When: The 1978 World Cup in Argentina resulted in the first real influx of foreign talent into English football. Tottenham signed Osvaldo Ardiles and Ricky Villa; Birmingham City brought in Alberto Tarantini and City targeted Poland captain Kaziu Deyna – but it would be no ordinary transfer…
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Background: Poland had reached the second phase of possibly the most iconic World Cup ever, Argentina ’78. Led by graceful captain Kazimierz Deyna, the Poles topped their group but were unfortunate to face hosts Argentina and Brazil in the next group stage.
City had been watching the tournament closely and Deyna had profile and standing that made him a firm target. Though he had just turned 31 years-old, Malcolm Allison and Tony Book identified Deyna as a player who could add a touch of finesse to an already-strong squad.
But first, there was red tape to cut through – and plenty of it.
Deyna was still a captain in the Polish army and City had to first secure his release from military service, then secure a deal with his club Legia. The clubs agreed a fee of around £100,000 but the Polish side weren’t interested in a straight cash deal as such – they wanted electronic hardware, such as photocopiers, printers and the like. It was a tad bizarre to say the least, but City, then sponsored by electronics giant Brother, agreed and paid the transfer fee in state-of-the-art hardware.
Negotiations would drag on and it wasn’t until November 1978 that the graceful Pole finally signed for City, but it proved to be the start of what was to be a largely frustrating stay in Manchester. Deyna wasn’t match-fit when he arrived, and it was a further fortnight before he made his league debut at home to Ipswich Town. His appearance added around 6,000 to the Maine Road gate, but City lost 2-1 to Bobby Robson’s side, though the Pole had shown flashes of what he was capable of during the game.
Deyna was unfortunate to have arrived at the start of what would be a long, steady decline of the Blues that would stretch for more than two decades, though the more immediate slump in form was all that mattered at the time.
City would fail to win in 15 and Deyna’s injury woes meant by mid-March he had made just two appearances and it wasn’t until the final eight games of the campaign that he returned to the side fully fit and made a genuine impact. By that point, the Blues were in deep trouble and in real danger of relegation, but Deyna would prove pivotal in helping City survive.
His late stooping header against Middlesbrough in mid-April was his first goal for the Club and by the end of the campaign, he’d bagged six goals in just four home appearances. Against Aston Villa in the final match of the season, he bent a free-kick over the wall into the top corner of the net and received a rapturous ovation from the Maine Road crowd, who had, quite frankly, never seen the like before.
Deyna’s grace and poise had all-too rarely been seen on these shores and he proved a popular figure on the terraces – a talisman in troubled times. Ultimately, City comfortably avoided the drop and fans wondered what a firing-on-all cylinders Deyna could do in 1979/80 – his first full campaign at Maine Road. The answer was more stop-start runs in the side, more flashes of brilliance and more long absences with injury.
When he did get into his stride, he scored goals and also made them for team-mates. His volley against Borussia Monchengladbach in the second leg of City’s UEFA Cup quarter-final was proof that he had the ability to score against the very best, but some questioned his commitment to City with a number of unspecified, niggling injuries curtailing his appearances that season to half of what they should have been.
Book and Malcolm Allison were sacked in 1980 and John Bond took over. After assessing the situation, Bond shipped Deyna out of Maine Road and off to North America where he joined the San Jose Earthquakes and would enjoy a productive period during his time in the States. He also appeared, briefly, in the 1981 movie ‘Escape to Victory’ alongside Mike Summerbee and the likes of Pele, Sylvester Stallone and Michael Caine.
When he had played, the fans loved him and he was capable of lifting a drab game with a moment of brilliance, but frustrating would be the best way of describing Deyna’s time with City.
There was no doubting that he was a world class talent, and he is still adored in his homeland as one of Poland’s greatest ever stars even today. But he was past his prime when he joined the Blues and had come to a club on the brink of turmoil. The timings just hadn’t been right for either party. Tragically, Kaziu died in a car crash on September 1, 1989 in San Diego, California. He was only 41-years-old.
Trivia: Former club Legia Warsaw later retired Deyna’s No.10 shirt in his honour and in 1994, a Polish Football Association and Polish sports newspaper poll voted Kaziu the greatest Polish player of all time.