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Piotr Zielinski: Poland’s goalscorer who loves to assist on and off the field

Earlier this year, Zielinski bought two buildings, renovated them and turned them into children's homes run by the "Peter Pan" foundation, which he founded.

Poland's Piotr Zielinski, center, is congratulated after scoring his side's opening goal during the World Cup group C soccer match between Poland and Saudi Arabia, at the Education City Stadium in Al Rayyan , Qatar, Saturday, Nov. 26, 2022. (AP Photo/Manu Fernandez)

Growing up, Piotr Zielinski hated the fact that he had to share his room with strangers. He will put on paper notes on the furniture: “my wardrobe”, “my desk”. He would even write his name on the toys so people would know they were his.

The Zielinskis used to help children from difficult backgrounds. For 13 years, they looked after children in their own home in Zabkowice Slaskie, 40 miles south of Wroclaw in southwest Poland. Eventually, the young Zielinski made friends with those he had to share his personal space with.

Cut to the present, the 28-year-old Poland and Napoli mid-fielder has bought two buildings renovated them and turned them into children’s homes run by the “Peter Pan” foundation, which he founded (Piotr is Peter in Polish). The foundation’s two homes are run and supervised by Zielinski parents, and when he isn’t busy on the football pitch, he often visits the homes and spends time with the children in his foundation’s care.

“He came out with the initiative, he’s a golden boy. If he returns to Poland he visits the kids, plays football with them. He also gives away electronic equipment that he does not use: a laptop, a game console or a tablet. At the holy communion of one of the charges, no one from the family appeared. Piotr came from Italy to please the boy. This is what he is,” Zielinski’s father Boguslaw Zielinski told The Guardian.

With three goals and five assists, Piotr Zielinski, Poland’s goalscorer against Saudi Arabia, has played a pivotal role in Napoli’s unbeaten run in the Serie A. The 28-year-old is a midfield engine for club and country.

However, it has not always been like that, he was criticised for not doing enough while playing for the national team. Former Polish coach Jerzy Brzeczek famously said that he only steps up for his club but never for his country.

“If Zielinski gets up one day and something switches over in his head, Poland will have a player whom everyone in the world will envy,” Brzeczek had said during this tenure with the Polish team.

There has never been a doubt about Zielinski’s talent since the time he moved to Udinese as a sixteen-year-old. In 2020, Barcelona wanted to sign him.

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Liverpool’s manager Jurgen Klopp even sent him a helicopter to talk about a move to Liverpool. But Napoli’s owner Aurelio De Laurentiis wanted to keep one of his greatest treasures at all costs and Zielinski signed a new contract with the Italian club till 2024.

Manchester United and Portugal mid-fielder Bruno Fernandes in an interview with Poland’s Canal+ admitted that his Udinese teammate is technically better than him and wants to reunite with Zielinski at Old Trafford.

“Technically, I can say that Zielinski is better trained than I am. We had a good challenge. I think in the past, Zielinski was actually a bit shy. He was really young then, just like me, at that time,” Fernandes had said.

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“However, we came from different countries and different mentality, and it was different for both of us. I have a really good relationship with Piotr. He’s a top guy, I like him a lot. He is one of the people I met in Italy with whom I am in touch all the time.”

In his 302 appearances for Napoli across six seasons, the talismanic mid-fielder has registered 46 goals and 35 assists.

Former Spanish goalkeeper Pepe Reina, who has played with him at Napoli, has called him an “out of the ordinary” player who should be playing at either Barcelona or Real Madrid.

He told Cadena Ser (Spain’s premier radio network) in 2020: “Is there a player who has surprised me for the better? There is a player who I fell in love with from the first time I saw him – the Napoli midfielder Zielinski.

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“He’s a Real Madrid or Barcelona player. He is out of the ordinary.”

First published on: 26-11-2022 at 21:11 IST
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