For much of the last 12 months it has seemed as if Grzegorz Krychowiak’s spell at Sevilla would be a short one. But now it looks like everyone at the Estadio Sanchez Pizjuan is going to be breathing a huge sigh of relief -- apart from the player himself -- when the summer transfer window shuts.
Poland international midfielder Krychowiak was not too well known when he joined the La Liga club for €5.5 million from Ligue 1 side Reims last summer. However from his first game for Sevilla -- the 2014 European Supercup against Real Madrid in Cardiff -- he has demanded attention from far afield.
Krychowiak quickly settled in at the Sanchez Pizjuan and immediately became an automatic pick for coach Unai Emery. His imposing six foot one inch and 13 stone four pound figure was soon dominating La Liga midfield areas - as a new-look Sevilla side quickly gelled and challenged towards the top of the table.
His early form was so good that by early Autumn there was already speculation in England that Arsenal were keeping tabs, with the London-based press suggesting the then 24 year old was the big strong player who could finally stiffen up the Gunners midfield.
As early as November, Krychowiak’s agent Cezary Kucharski was telling Seville-based sports paper Estadio Deportivo that this client was not at all thinking about a January transfer to the Emirates Stadium. Quotes which of course did little to dampen speculation that a move might be in the works.
As the season progressed, and Sevilla’s number four continued to impress with his combative and skillful displays, there were also reports in the Spanish media that Madrid had become interested. Again there seemed a certain logic to these stories - with Los Blancos also having a midfield in need of an extra physical presence.
Meanwhile ‘Krycho’ was already becoming a cult hero among the Sanchez Pizjuan faithful, with his ability to return almost immediately from serious-looking injuries adding an air of indestructibility to his reputation. Despite being a very different type of midfielder, he filled the gap left by Ivan Rakitic’s departure for Barcelona in summer 2014, as an outsider who seemed to be fully comfortable with the culture and lifestyle in the Andalusian capital. That he and his French girlfriend Celia Jaunat were clearly enjoying their new surroundings was obvious from followers of the player's Instagram account.
The domestic Spanish campaign ended with Krychowiak being named in La Liga’s official best XI as Sevilla finished fifth in the Primera Division. Things went even better in Europe, with Krychowiak scoring in the final as they won a second successive Europa League trophy. That the final was played in his home country’s capital of Warsaw, and the defeated team were Ukranian side Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk, only made the sense of a fairytale season even keener.
Meanwhile, Krychowiak’s ever rising profile helped intensify the British media reports of Arsenal’s interest. His release clause remained at €30 million - which the favourable exchange rate meant was about £22 million. This is a high enough fee, but not too high for Arsenal considering the likes of Morgan Schneiderlin and Christian Benteke were on the move for much higher sums.
Adding to the intrigue was Krychowiak’s decision to change agents at the end of last season. Long-time representative and countryman Kucharski was ditched, with the player now being represented by the London-based Stellar Group. Stellar’s clientlist also features his international colleague and Arsenal goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny, as well as Madrid galactico Gareth Bale. Again this switch was certainly not designed to make it look like he had no interest in a summer move.
Sevilla also seemed to think a move was at least a possibility, with rojiblanco president Jose Castro admitting on his own club’s radio station that a move might happen - something which would bring his cleverly-run club a potential 500% plus return on their investment of just 12 months earlier.
“You can never say never as football is football,” Castro said in early June. “We’re not going to listen to offers for our top players. But if someone pays their clause there is nothing we can do, although we do not want that to happen.”
Krychowiak himself was honest about the situation a few weeks later, telling Estadio Deportivo that he did not want to disprespect his current employers, but suggesting he was not sure yet where he’d be playing once the 2015/16 season began.
“I’m with Sevilla and I feel proud as a footballer to play for Sevilla,” he said. “I don’t know about England, you cannot talk about the future in football. And please, do not misinterpret my words, I don’t want this to be understood as a lack of respect for the club or its fans, who I respect a lot. Many players are kissing the badge on Monday, and signing for another club the day after. Others, differently, say they will stay at the club for a year, and become a club legend 10 years later. As I’ve said, I’m very happy and 100 per cent with Sevilla, focused on resting before the Supercup against Barcelona.”
Krychowiak did return from his summer holidays and joined up for pre-season with Sevilla. An injury crisis meant he had to fill in at centre-back against Barcelona in the European Supercup game in Tbilisi, but his second half move back to midfield coincided with the stirring comeback which almost saw the Catalans embarrassed.
This display again helped restart the speculation about interest from Arsenal and Madrid, and teammate Vicente Iborra admitted to the local paper that everyone at the club was concerned about the situation.
“Of course I'm concerned that Krychowiak could be taken away,” Iborra said. “I hope he stays. I understand Sevilla’s position, it is clear, and I hope nobody pays that clause, and he stays with us.”
Again the feeling was of everyone waiting for the offer to come in, and nobody at Sevilla would have stood in his way. Canny sporting director Monchi signed big, strong, capable midfielder Steven N’Zonzi from Stoke - a move which looked designed to ensure a replacement was already in place.
But the release clause was not triggered. Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger flatly said “no” when asked if he was interested in Krychowiak after his side’s 0-2 opening day Premier League defeat at home to West Ham, with the veteran coach apparently having put his faith in homegrown Francis Coquelin. Madrid president Florentino Perez meanwhile decided what his midfield needed was another classy playmaker, so spent €30 million on Croatia international Mateo Kovacic from Inter Milan.
Krychowiak himself was staying quiet about his future now. He did however remain an active presence on twitter, and particularly liked the Estadio Deportivo cover from August 19 which called him ‘A Perfect Machine’ and ‘Iron Man’, as he again quickly overcame what looked a quite serious injury to return to training ahead of the La Liga opening gameweek.
That opening game at Malaga saw Krycho again needed in the middle of the back four, where he had extra work to do after N’Zonzi was sent off with 20 minutes left, but helped secure a creditable goalless draw.
Perhaps sensing that his chances of a making the next step up in his career this summer, last Tuesday Krychowiak tweeted “I’m staying at the Sanchez Pizjuan for next season,” in both Spanish and Polish.
That does appear to be the end of any chance of a move for now, barring some extra late drama before the summer transfer window shuts. The feeling remains however that he would have happily left this summer, if Madrid or especially Arsenal had pushed through with their reported interest and met the relatively affordable asking price.
Both these clubs seem to be crying out for an experienced, physical, charismatic central midfield presence. But their loss is to Sevilla’s benefit for the 2015/16 campaign.
Read more from Dermot Corrigan