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Wednesday, 3 April, 2002, 09:17 GMT 10:17 UK
Muller gets Bak on track
Jacek Bak has thrived at Lens
Bak is enjoying life at Lens after a tough time with Lyon
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Frenchmen are guaranteed to have a huge impact on the World Cup this summer, but one of the most telling contributions could come from an unlikely source, Lens coach Joel Muller.

Not only did this avuncular figure resurrect the career of Senegal striker El Hadji Diouf.

But he will also ensure key Poland defender Jacek Bak actually goes into the tournament with some games under his belt.

Poland coach Jerzy Engel has long stressed that Bak is crucial to his system.

But the pugnacious former Lech Poznan star was left struggling for match-fitness after Lyon boss Jacques Santini suddenly turned against him earlier this season.


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I can honestly say that if I had stayed a week longer I would have had a swing at him
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Bak on Lyon coach Jacques Santini

"I spent six years at Lyon and was very happy there," said Bak. "But then I had a big problem with the coach - I don't know why - and I had to leave.

"It all started to go wrong after I was injured a few months ago. When I returned I was eager to play but Santini had other ideas.

"I don't know why he disliked me, but I have heard that somebody in his family had problems with a Polish girl he married. But how was I responsible for that? It's senseless."

So strained did relations become, indeed, that Bak almost came to blows with the coach.

"I can honestly say that if I had stayed a week longer I would have had a swing at him, because I just couldn't stand it any more."

Bak admits that those last few months at Lyon were the toughest of his career.

But that has all changed since Muller came to his rescue in December, offering him a loan deal with Lens. "Things are totally different now," he said.

Lens boss Joel Muller
Lens coach Joel Muller has shown faith in Bak

"I am happy because I am playing, and that is very important as far as the World Cup goes.

"If I had stayed at Lyon, I would not have had the chance to prepare for the most important tournament of my life."

Engel has been preaching a line of cautious optimism for the finals, where they face Portugal, the US and South Korea in their group, and Bak is no different.

"On the one hand," he said, "our group is not the most difficult, but on the other there are no easy games in such a tournament.

"Let's look at it rationally. Portugal are the best side, and have to qualify.

"South Korea will also be very dangerous because the host team always are.

"Those two teams will be the biggest threats to us, but I'm sure that if we can keep going as we have been, we will perform well."

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GROUP D
  P GD PTS
SOUTH KOREA 3 +3 7
USA 3 -1 4
PORTUGAL 3 +2 3
POLAND 3 -4 3

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