When City supporters turn the conversation to choosing their best loved players, there’s always a wide variety of names proposed and no shortage of favourites. The most recognised names are familiar, celebrated and remembered fondly, along with their background stories.
However, the generation gap means that certain players are not as readily brought to mind and their stories, if not forgotten, are often consigned to the further reaches of the collective conscience. With that in mind, perhaps it’s time to introduce the younger City fans to Kazimierz Deyna – and to remind his past and present admirers of what the man also known as Kaziu or, affectionately, ‘Kazzy’ was all about.
Elegant, composed and blessed with wonderful vision and football brain, Deyna’s brief stay at City earned him countless admirers both within the club and on the terraces. He was born in Starogard Gdanski in northern Poland, on October 23 1947. He was the son of a dairy worker and was one of nine siblings in a big family. Football was in the bloodline as two of his brothers also played the game; Henryk for Wlokniarz Starogard Gdanski and Franciszek for Starogardzki KS.
Kaziu began his career playing youth football at the age of 11 for his local side, Wloknairz Starogard Gdanski. When he turned 19 he moved to LKS Lodz before heading to Legia Warsaw. Deyna had been called up into the Polish army and at the time Legia were known as an army club. It was during his time at the club when the midfielder really made his name.
In both 1969 and 1970 Legia won the Polish title but it was on the international stage where Deyna caught the eyes of fans and managers around the world. At the 1972 Olympic Games in Munich, he scored twice against Hungary in the final to help Poland win the gold medal. He was the top scorer at the games, netting nine goals.
An intelligent playmaker and attacking midfielder, Deyna continued his form into the 1974 World Cup, also held in Germany. The Poles impressed and deservedly finished third, beating Brazil 1-0. Deyna was subsequently ranked third in the 1974 European Football of the Year, behind all-time greats Johan Cruyff (Holland) and Franz Beckenbauer (West Germany).
By this time, Kazzy had attracted the attention of a variety of managers across the continent. Real Madrid had sent him a shirt with the number 14 on it and AS Monaco made enquiries in an attempt to sign him. But being an officer in the army meant that he was unable to leave Poland and was denied permission to play in Western Europe until the age of 30.
Deyna went to the 1976 Olympic Games in Montreal and assisted Poland in winning the silver medal. In 1978 he captained his country at the World Cup in Argentina and progressed through to the second round.
When he reached the age of 30, after scoring 93 goals in 304 appearances for Legia, he was itching for a new football challenge and to experience a different culture. With all kinds of offers on the table he decided to make the move to England - and to City. His transfer fee was around £100,000 but this was paid mainly in photocopying machines and medical instruments given to the Polish army, with the balance being made up in US dollars. The American currency helped Poland fund the overseas training of their athletes for the 1980 Olympics.
Deyna made his City debut under Tony Book in a 2-1 home defeat by Ipswich in November 1978. Back in those days it was rare to have foreign players in England, but his elegance and composure, together with his knack for making the sublime look simple, instantly endeared him to the Maine Road faithful.
Former City player Paul Lake is one of Deyna’s biggest fans having watched him through envious young eyes.
“I first saw Deyna play in the World Cup in 1978 and thought what an exciting player had in its midfield,” recalls Paul. “He seemed quite tall and was very elegant in the way he moved and was comfortable with either foot. What impressed me the most was the skill of the guy, seemingly at odds with the Polish style of play and more in tune with the Argentineans and the Dutch. I never tired of watching him play.
“You can imagine my excitement when he turned up at Maine Road. I couldn’t believe what a brilliant move this way by the club. As it turned out, he was blighted with injury but I remember that he scored some crucial goals and his unique style of football will never be forgotten by the fans of the time. He was an extremely clever footballer.”
Lake was not the only man impressed. Alex Williams MBE, who works tirelessly for City in the Community, fondly remembers playing alongside the Pole.
“I was in the reserves team in the late 1970s at the time when he came over to England as part of the Poland team. It was so great for me as a youngster to train with him and see him play as he had great experience and was a fabulous player.
“He did everything with such style. He had learned how to look after himself on the pitch and could pick defences apart. Even though he was in the later stages of his career, he still oozed class. He was a deceptive player too, because he never seemed to do anything quickly but his brain was super fast.”
Deyna was clever enough to know a good thing when he saw one and was happy to sign up for a bit of movie stardom in the early ‘80s when he featured alongside Sylvester Stallone and City’s very own Mike Summerbee in the film Escape to Victory. Kaziu was one of several worldwide football luminaries such as Pele and Ossie Ardilles in the movie which was a big hit. Summerbee was, like everyone else, impressed.
“I didn’t play with Kazzy as I’d already left the club. But I played with him in Escape to Victory in Budapest and we were together for four or five weeks. I knew him from coming to watch the games at City and I’d met him socially a few times. He was a superb man but he was a great footballer: you don’t get capped for your country that many times if you’re not a great player.
“Kazzy was a great friend. He was very patriotic and very proud to play for his country. He was also a great ambassador for Polish football. All of us who knew him respected him as a man and footballer. He was a superb professional, one of the best around.”
Early in the 1979-80 season, before shooting his scenes in the movie, the Pole picked up an injury but scored on his return just six games later, helping the Blues to a 2-1 win at Leeds. But he struggled with injuries and ultimately John Bond’s arrival as manager in 1981 signalled the end of Deyna’s City career. After 38 appearances and 13 goals, he emigrated to the United States of America and signed for the San Diego Sockers.
He continued his success in America where he won five North American Soccer League championships, scoring 151 goals in 242 appearances before being released in 1987. Deyna lived and breathed football. His dream was to open a football school for children and teenagers in Poland. Sadly, it was a dream that would never be fulfilled.
For the final two years of his life the midfield magician struggled with personal problems. On September 1 1989 he crashed his car into a truck in California and tragically died. He was 41 years old. It’s a tribute to how brilliantly talented Deyna was that he played so few games for City but left such a lasting impression. Legia decided to retire his number 10 shirt as a mark of respect and he is widely reminisced as one of his best Polish footballers ever. He scored 41 goals in 97 appearances for his country.
“To know that he died in a car accident in San Diego was very upsetting,” Summerbee concludes. “It was a tragedy that his life ended so early. He was such a nice man and very popular with the City fans. When we signed him, even I thought it was a great move to have a player of his quality at the club. I can remember him being a good man. We’ve lost a great friend in Deyna and a great player too.”