Poland’s gladatorial displays at Euro 2016 have attracted a new fan with star actor Russell Crowe jumping on the bandwagon as Jakub “Kuba” Blaszczykowski booked their place in the knockout stages for the first time.
“Kuba !! Well done Poland. More hard work to come. Do boju Polska !!,” the Oscar-winner reacted on Twitter, urging “Poland, go to battle!!” in a message that has attracted thousands of retweets and likes.
While the 30-year-old midfielder Blaszczykowski has had a stellar career with German giants Borussia Dortmund on the pitch, his life off it has been anything but easy.
Hailed as Polish player of the year in 2008 and 2010, Blaszczykowski won Polish and German titles with Wisla Krakow and Dortmund, as well as reaching Champions League final in 2013.
Along with star compatriot Robert Lewandowski and Lukasz Piszczek, Blaszczykowski made up a Polish core to now Liverpool manager Juergen Klopp’s Dortmund dream team that dominated German football between 2010 and 2012.
But luck has not always been on his side. He had to sit out Euro 2008 after an injury sustained during the last friendly match before the squad was named.
Meanwhile, a severe knee injury meant he had to sit out all of 2014.
This season limited opportunities at Dortmund under new boss Thomas Tuchel forced him to go on loan to Italian club Fiorentina to make his case just to be included in the Poland squad for Euro 2016.
Born in the southern city of Czestochowa — more known for its Black Madonna icon that is reputed to work miracles — Blaszczykowski’s life was marked by tragedy at the tender age of 11.
Blaszczykowski’s mother died in his arms, stabbed by his father during a domestic dispute.
He was then brought up by his grandmother with help from his brother.
However, it was Blaszczykowski’s uncle, Jerzy Brzeczek, captain of Poland’s silver medal-winning team at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics, that helped him get focused on football and onto the pitch for good.
“It took years before I stopped thinking about it all, with my heart full of hate,” Blaszczykowski said in an interview that came out alongside his 2015 autobiography.
“Whatever happens in your life and whatever obstacles you encounter, the important thing is to never give up but just to go forward… never feel sorry for yourself, just do your job,” he added, summing up the message he wanted to get across in his book.
Each time he scores a goal, ‘Kuba’ always gazes up to the sky.
“It’s a symbolic gesture to thank my Mum, who always believed in me,” says Blaszczykowski, now a married father of two.
During Poland’s first Euro 2016 match against Northern Ireland, Blaszczykowski teed up Arkadiusz Milik for the winning goal.
On Tuesday in Marseille, he made history by blasting home the only goal in a 1-0 win over Ukraine to book his country’s place in the last 16.
Now, Poles and Crowe are hoping Blaszczykowski can make the most of a wildly open draw in France to fire Poland to a first ever major tournament win.