In the space of only six months, Callum Rzonca went from playing for a club at the bottom of National League North to winning promotion to the top flight in Poland. Just how exactly did a 21-year-old from Leeds pull off such a drastic career change in such a short amount of time? The answer is a lot more simple than you may have imagine but that doesn’t mean it was any less deserved.
“The move to Poland came about through my agent,” says Rzonca. “He is Polish and had been watching me play at North Ferriby. He could see I was good enough to play so took me over and I signed at Zagłebie Sosnowiec.”
On Boxing Day last year, the midfielder was playing his last game for North Ferriby, a 4-1 loss to his former side York City which saw them rooted to the bottom of the table and then on 3rd March this year, he debuted for Zagłębie Sosnowiec in a 1-0 win as they edged closer to promotion.
It was quite a turnaround for a player who had made his professional debut against Swansea City in 2015 for York City before dropping into non-league.
“The level of football is a lot higher than playing at North Ferriby,” he says. “I have adapted very well and the style of play suits the type of player I am. We play the ball on the ground and pass very well. I would say Poland is less physical than England as well.”
Having started out at the youth academies of Huddersfield Town and Barnsley, Rzonca joined York City in 2013 where he stayed for four years before joining North Ferriby. After 17 appearances in which his side won just once, the midfielder knew it was time for a move.
Although that move was not to a fellow English club, it was to Polish second division club Zagłębie Sosnowiec, a side who were looking for a return to their glory days of the 1960s and 70s when they won four Polish Cups.
For most, the thought of moving abroad would be a daunting proposition but the transition to living in his grandad’s homeland was one which Rzonca took in his stride.
“I have found it very easy to settle in while I have been in Poland. I have my girlfriend with me and I also have a dog.
“In my spare time, there are some very nice places to take the dog for walks with lakes and nice places to eat. I think my Polish heritage has definitely helped me while I have been over here.”
Zagłębie are managed by the younger brother of legendary Liverpool goalkeeper Jerzy Dudek and in his first season in charge, Dariusz led his side to promotion to the top flight for the first time in more than a decade, something that Rzonca was more than delighted to have contributed to.
“I was very happy to be playing games in the 1. Liga (second division). I gained good experience and made a good impact for my team and I look forward to the new season playing at the top level of Polish football against some very good teams.”
He certainly did make an impact, making 13 appearances, 12 of which were starts, and scoring once.
For now, the 21-year-old is enjoying his off-season before he returns for arguably the most challenging season of his career. Last time Zagłębie were in the top flight in the 2007/08 season, they finished rock with just four wins all year.
“My ambitions for the future are with Zagłębie,” he says. “I hope to do well for the team in the Ekstraklasa (top flight) and will progress my career by doing this.”
His first game in the top flight will be against Piast Gliwice next month, who in a surprising twist, have an Englishman of their own in Tom Hateley.
One way the young midfielder could progress his career would be through international recognition. Although born and raised in Yorkshire, Rzonca is aware that he is now very visible in the eyes of the Polish national team bosses.
“I would be very honoured to represent Poland and would make my granddad very proud by achieving this,” he adds.
It’s fair to say Rzonca’s career has progressed a great deal since his time with a struggling North Ferriby side last year and he would recommend the move abroad to kickstart a more successful football career. As he prepares to take on the giants of Polish football for the first time next season, the 21-year-old is determined to make a success of the opportunity which has presented itself.