It hasn’t quite been a winter wonderland for Louis D’Arrigo in Gdansk
The city of Gdańsk is situated on the southern side of Poland and due to its close proximity to the Baltic Sea has been an infamous trade port since the Middle Ages.
It’s winter wonderland December through to February, making for spectacular scenery – with freezing temperatures ranging to -10C.
Gdansk is also home to ex-Adelaide United midfielder Louis D’Arrigo – the latest in a long line of Australians who have found Polska a very difficult country to ply their trade.
It is almost 20 years since the first Australian export to Poland, Michael Thwaite, won silverware and naturalised Australia Labinot Haliti became a cult hero before also achieving that status in the A League. Jacob Burns and Jake McGing have also spent time in the country.
D’Arrigo is facing a similar fate to that of one of Australia’s highly-rated centre-backs Jordan Courtney-Perkins.
After a tumultuous loan spell in 2022-23 where he struggled with the language and the weather, Courtney-Perkins found himself back in the A league with Sydney FC – where he has looked a pale imitation of the talented player with potential he was once rated.
D’Arrigo has yet to start any of the 19 league matches in 2023-24, however he has made 12 appearances off the bench so far.
This has been no fault of the young South Australian’s work ethic and fitness – with D’Arrigo over multiple seasons in Australia ranking in the top 10 when it came to running stats, beep tests and breathing rates.
A maiden starting position has been hard to come by with Lechia Gdansk, who are already in a tight battle for promotion out of the Polish second division.
Gdansk are currently in fourth place in the league, only two points behind the campaign’s pace-setters in Arka Gdynia.
Competition for places in the engine room at Gdansk is very high, with the Australian having to battle several local players as well as ones from Colombia, Bosnia and Ukraine.
The multicultural squad also has representation from Brazil, Romania, Sweden, Slovakia and Austria. It is not unusual for manager Szymon Grabowski’s messages to be lost in translation with such a high volume of non-Polish speakers in the group.
Grabowski has preferred Tomasz Neugebauer and Ivan Zhelizko ahead of D’Arrigo in the heart of Gdansk’s midfield this season.
Neugebauer is a Polish under-20 international who many expect to make the grade in Europe while Zhelizko has represented Ukraine at every underage level all the way up to the under 21s.
Training in Poland has been a real culture shock for D’Arrigo. Going from sessions in Australia’s summer of 30C-plus to Europe’s winter of minus temperatures has been challenging to say the least – but there is the bonus of training and playing out of one of Europe’s most underrated stadiums, Stadion Gdańsk.
Stadion Gdańsk is a 41,620-seat roofed stadium that resembles a bird’s nest with an eye-catching exterior colour of gold/amber that was designed for UEFA’s European Championships in 2012.
Even though the team is the title picture this season, Gdansk’s mammoth stadium has remained largely empty each match day – with the side averaging barely 7000 fans to its matches.
Sports opinion delivered daily
D’Arrigo is determined to buck the trend of Australian’s that have failed in Poland, especially since missing out on a dream move to Italy when the global pandemic hit three seasons ago.
But as seen by the Australians who previously played in the Poland, conquering a country that many deem a stepping stone to a bigger European league has proved an extremely hard task to accomplish.
The midseason winter break in Poland will offer a chance to refresh and reflect in what shapes to be a title race in the second half of the season.
D’Arrigo does not want to be the latest young Australian to return back to Australia with his tail between his legs – after an uncomfortable move to a lower division European side.