An interview with Łukasz Wiśniowski, sports journalist for the “Łączy nas piłka” football portal.
Łukasz Wiśniowski – the only representative of Nowy Sącz at UEFA Euro 2016. Can I introduce you this way?
From Ubiad, to be precise. When people ask you where you are from, my friends from Ubiad and Wielogłowy say they are from Nowy Sącz. I always say I am from Ubiad. And I wait for the reaction. I spent a lot of time in Nowy Sącz. My secondary school was there, I also started my journalist career in this city. I have very fond memories of Nowy Sącz.
Your films are available on the “Łączy nas piłka” football portal. They were hot in Poland during the last couple of weeks.
When I was in France, I wasn’t really aware how quickly these materials gained popularity. When we flew back to Poland, you could see them on every channel. I could check how many people actually saw them. In June alone, we had 27 million views on YouTube! Our partner, the Onet.pl portal, presented them on its landing page, where traffic amounts to several million hits per day. If we add major Polish TV stations, I think half of the Polish population could have seen them.
Generally speaking, you were the only journalist who had unlimited access to Poland’s national team.
Maybe thanks to Euro 2016, more people noticed this work. I’ve worked with the squad since the first friendly match against Slovakia, from training camps in Abu Dhabi through to the victory against Germany in October on the National Stadium. I recorded videos with a GoPro sports camera and my cameraman took a lot of photos, which I hope will make it to the photo album summing up the UEFA Euro 2016 tournament. There are still some areas we don’t enter though, e.g. there are reasons for us not to participate in the tactical meetings.
So you don’t participate in sensitive meetings and events?
Showing those meetings would basically be shooting ourselves in the foot, because our rivals never sleep and are constantly watching what is going on. But as far as contacts with players and their everyday lives are concerned, we went quite far.
You said “work” a couple of times. Was it work or an adventure?
Well, I said work as it is associated with professionalism. So we hope we have been doing it professionally. I often hear that I have the best job in the world and I always reply that it’s true. First of all, I’m the closest you can get to the best football team in this country. And second of all, I deal with a sports discipline which has always been my passion, plus, unlike the players and the coach, I am not responsible for the result. To me, it is a perfect combination.
And the pressure that was on the coach and the team, did it affect you?
It is a sort of paradox. When I started working for the Polish Football Association (PZPN), I used to be very stressed for several days, or even weeks, before matches. And guess what. It turned out that the players don’t feel this stress at all, they are completely relaxed up until the very end. I picked up this ability to remain relaxed from them. Now I feel practically no stress up until the kick-off.
People might think that being so relaxed, the players don’t take their jobs too seriously.
I talked about it with Robert Lewandowski. He said that the times of fake “stress”, of trying to motivate oneself several days before the match, are long gone. He can see this in the best footballers in the world. If you are a player whose job is to create something, to do something unconventional, you have to be relaxed. Tensed-up muscles will not let you do that. When you go out for a warm-up before the match, that is when the focus starts. But earlier, you can play around.
Was it easy to get players to trust you? Everybody is different, you have to get through to them with the camera and not cause them discomfort.
You nailed it. You have to approach everyone individually. It is somewhat difficult, but also challenging. We live in times when footballers open up more and more often, they have their own fan pages on Facebook. I know that in the previous years, the players resented journalists and reporters because they didn’t show their whole picture, but only some randomly selected fragments instead. Today, those same players decide what they want to show. Some of them don’t need classic journalism. Footballers are more open in front of the camera.
But surely there are those more eager cooperate and those not so enthusiastic about it. Would you say that e.g. Grzegorz Krychowiak and Wojciech Szczęsny are the more open ones?
Wojciech Szczęsny lived in London since he was 16 and he spent the last year in Rome. He has gone through very professional media training in Arsenal. It is a club with its own TV station.
Is he a natural talker?
Definitely, he replies very naturally, his ripostes are really impressive at times. And Grzegorz Krychowiak is a guy who has lived in France since he was 16 and the French TV has been shooting similar behind-the-scenes materials for a long time now. He grew up living in this convention. If we were to look at Euro 2016, I think that Artur Jędrzejczyk absolutely takes the first spot as far as interaction with the camera goes. He has become a kind of a celebrity of this channel. He is exactly the same when the camera is rolling and when it is off. It is absolutely phenomenal.
By contrast, Kuba Błaszczykowski doesn’t really like to talk at all.
Certain stereotypes have become established. In general, Kuba Błaszczykowski was rarely present on the national team during the qualifiers. Then he came back to the squad after an injury. He had to fit in somehow. Kuba will be one of the main characters of a story we are editing. I hope it will be released before the end of the year. I could also find some clips that would surprise people seeing Kuba this relaxed. We tried to reach everyone. But some players are shown with more intensity than others. Some like it, others not so much.
Is Robert Lewandowski a “cold” celebrity?
He is exploited the most frequently. He doesn’t have it easy. Someone wants something from him all the time. I know when I can interact with him and he also interacts with me. If we looked at this from the angle of the qualifiers, there were also many videos with Robert letting us in his room. The channel was very popular after the match against Scotland, when Robert Lewandowski went to the doctor together with the camera and showed his sore leg after one of the match’s brutal fouls. He is not scared of opening up. We were in his room when we were presenting the material recorded in the USA, where people talked about what they knew about him. Robert is not cold, he is calm. One time when talking with Wojciech Szczęsny, we concluded that we are dealing with some kind of a genius. We tried to diagnose this genius of his. We came to a conclusion that his innate calmness is one of the qualities that make him so special.
How do you manage to invite celebrities like Lewandowski or Szczęsny to dinner in Gródek nad Dunajcem just a week before leaving for the European Championship?
They are open to people. This was after the match in Gdańsk and before the match in Kraków, so the guys had two days off. Players like to visit new places and, like Robert, they absolutely love good cuisine.
Did you capture any materials that were not released due to censorship?
There is no censorship. It is a paradox and people are surprised, but no one controls us.
Not even Boniek, President of the Polish Football Association, and coach Nawałka?
Absolutely not. We start editing when everyone else is asleep. Until then, we live at the pace of the team and we record. Our production work takes place between 11 PM and 2 AM. It would be difficult to wake someone up at this time. I think the players trust us a lot. We are well aware that we cannot publish some things. This is because the number of viewers is gigantic and so we go through our material very carefully. If obscenities are used, we try to get rid of them. This is not censorship, but caring for the youngest viewers who start playing football thanks to our “Łączy nas piłka” portal.
You never wanted to play football? Was becoming a journalist always your dream?
I diagnose my weaknesses very quickly. I immediately knew I could not be a footballer. I used to play football and I still enjoy playing today. But I knew that my coordinationskills are very limited. I knew I wanted to be a sports journalist ever since the fifth grade.
I heard that when you were a young boy, you used to sit in front of the TV and commentate on matches.
Yes, but there’s more. Sometimes, when I played FIFA, I muted the sound and commentated on my own. My dad who watched matches with me used to say “you keep buying all these sports magazines, watching matches, maybe you would like to be a sports commentator?” I told him that my voice is not good enough and that I would not be a good fit, but I would like to work for a newspaper instead.
But you have never actually worked for a newspaper.
Indeed, I have never worked for a newspaper. But I wrote for many magazines and websites. One time in Radio Galicja, a radio station from Nowy Sącz, someone even told me that my voice is not that bad.
Why football, though?
Football is a sport that lets you get to know all the aspects of life: psychology, languages, interpersonal relations, and sociology. I also love football as a game itself. If only I can find the time, I watch as many as twelve, even fourteen matches per week and it gives me great pleasure.
Do you watch just for the joy of it or are you analysing what is going on?
I frequently talk to people who are experts in the field and know a lot and I don’t want to usurp the right to being qualified to make such analyses. Thanks to the fact that I work with the national team, I deal with professionals every day. I have learned a lot. After joining PZPN, some of my views regarding certain subjects changed completely. When I worked for Orange Sport, everything seemed so simple to me. Now the more I know, the more aware I am that I actually know nothing at all.
Is that why journalists get on football coaches’ nerves so much?
Sometimes they annoy them. I enjoy the comfort of understanding both of these worlds. I try to bridge the gap between them. I realize that players cannot say some things, because people would say they act like prima donnas. And I can say these things, because I look from the perspective of a fan or journalist. It is hard to imagine how difficult it is to keep a large group of men together for 45 days, 24 hours per day.
Nobody ever got in a fight or fell out?
At times, people get irritated with each other, it is normal, but a challenge nevertheless. I think that coach Nawałka came out a winner.
Can he take credit for the fact that both the pitch and the behind-the-scenes worked out this good?
Absolutely. The selector knows that players don’t enjoy boredom. He made sure that they could play golf, paintball, go for a walk, meet with their wives, their families. We changed locations. We were in Jurata, Arłamów, then by the ocean. He gathered all the experience from previous years – both his and the players’. The conditions we had and the way it all worked outside the pitch really translated into what happened on the field. We were a little bit unlucky in the last phase.
By: Wojciech Molendowicz
Photo by: Łukasz Wiśniowski’s own archive