Why Kiwi adventure is way more than football to new Phoenix man Kopczynski

If an unlikely plan comes together, new Wellington Phoenix signing Michal Kopczynski won’t be the only Polish athlete taking New Zealand sport by storm in the near future.

And that’s not just because he’s sharing a dressing room with compatriot Filip Kurto.

Kopczynski, 26, joined Wellington on loan from boyhood club Legia Warsaw in July despite admitting to being a “little bit scared” of the prospect of relocating outside his homeland for the first time.

The furthest he ventured during 12 years in the Polish capital was a one-season loan spell at second tier Wigry Suwalki – around 300km north east of Warsaw – so the thought of moving to the Southern Hemisphere was certainly a daunting one.

Making the life-changing move smoother was the ease with which he could convince fiancee Stasia Jestem to follow him to the other side of the planet.

After all, it made sense for a representative of Poland’s women’s Rugby Sevens team to be on board with an adventure in a rugby heartland like New Zealand.

“She was playing for Legia in Rugby Sevens and a few times she played with the national team,” Kopczynski explained to www.a-league.com.au.

“In Poland, rugby is not popular. It’s not a professional sport for women.

“This is a rugby country, so for her it’s also a good thing we can go to games and maybe she will have an opportunity to join a club.

“In Poland she had a job, but she doesn't have one here yet so there is more time for her to play.”

Michal Kopczynski tracks Real Madrid attacker Cristiano Ronaldo
Michal Kopczynski tracks Real Madrid attacker Cristiano Ronaldo

Counting on Kurto

Kopczynski, who delivered an outstanding performance in Legia's dramatic draw against Real Madrid in the 2016-17 UEFA Champions League group stage, turned out 93 times in Polish football and 14 in European competitions across six years in the senior ranks.

During that aforementioned game, Legia came back from 2-0 down to take a 3-2 lead, before Cristiano Ronaldo, Gareth Bale, Karim Benzema and company grabbed a late goal to spoil the party.

But after falling out of favour with the new regime at Legia, former Roda JC goalkeeper Kurto is helping the midfielder adjust as he now attempts to secure first-team football in the Land of the Long White Cloud.

The pair have been brought in to add European know-how to a team looking for ways to climb the ladder, and have quickly taken to their new surrounds.

KURTO: Phoenix sign Eredivisie goalkeeper

“I’m happy Filip is also here. Everything for us is easier, we can do it together,” said Kopczynski.

“We didn’t know each other previously, but now we are friends and we are helping each other to settle. It makes our lives easier.

“So far I love the city, really. I love nature and we have a beautiful view of the hills. There are a lot of houses on the hills with good views of the bay and mountains.

“With Filip, we already go on walks. If there is time to go to the Southern Island and other places we will do it.”

Mierzejewski's recommendation

The idyllic Kiwi scenery makes for a welcome break from the daily grind of a gruelling pre-season under Mark Rudan.

WARNING: Rudan's message for the Phoenix doubters

Kopczynski is confident the new Phoenix boss’ high-intensity training sessions and the “professional” atmosphere permeating the club will result in an upturn in fortunes this term.

Just don’t expect the defensive midfielder to emulate Adrian Mierzejewski, the Polish sensation who wrote headlines at Sydney FC on the way to winning the Johnny Warren Medal.

Adrian Mierzejewski Johnny Warren Medal
Johnny Warren medal winner Adrian Mierzejewski sold the Hyundai A-League dream to Kopczynski

“We had a little conversation about the A-League, about the standard,” Kopczynski revealed.

“[Mierzejewski] was a star here, a really good player. He gave me some advice and it was really helpful for me.

“It’s difficult [in my position] to be really famous, to be one of the star players. But I’m going to do my best to be the best I can.

“For sure, I will not score as many goals and have as many assists like him, but I can have an impact on our game.”