Once a highly-rated teenage academy prospect at Arsenal, Krystian Bielik left the club in 2019, but how is he getting on now?
Krystian Bielik joined Arsenal from Legia Warsaw in 2015, just days after his 17th birthday. The defensive midfielder reportedly cost around £2.4m, and he already had senior experience playing in the Polish first division.
Less than a year later, Bielik had made his senior debut for Arsenal, coming off the bench in a League Cup game against Sheffield Wednesday. But this turned out to be one of just two appearances he’d ever make for the club at first-team level.
After a few loan spells, including a particularly successful season with League One Charlton Athletic – helping them achieve promotion to the Championship – Bielik left Arsenal for Derby County. The deal cost Derby around £10m, with €500k of that going to Legia Warsaw.
At first, it certainly appeared that Arsenal would live to regret the sale, despite making a decent profit on their initial investment.
Bielik quickly became a regular for Derby, drawing widespread praise for his performances, and he earned himself a senior international call-up and debut in September 2019, just over a month after signing. He made three appearances for Poland before the end of the year.
Throughout his time with Arsenal, Bielik had been moved back and forth between centre-back and defensive midfield, and he started in the same way at Derby before eventually settling in midfield.
In general, things continued to go well until the end of 2019, when he had his first couple of major setbacks.
Playing against his former club Charlton in December, Bielik picked up a straight red card, ruling him out for three matches. But there was far worse news to come as he suffered a cruciate ligament rupture in an u23 fixture during his senior suspension, ending his season early.
After a long road to recovery, Bielik played his first minutes for Derby in almost a year when he returned in November 2020. It didn’t take long for him to find his old form after that, once again earning praise for his role in midfield.
Unfortunately, in January 2021, Bielik suffered another anterior cruciate ligament injury.
Derby manager Wayne Rooney told the club website: “Krystian has done his ACL again, which is sad, and we are all devastated with that news.
“He will have a long time to come back now, but he knows what to do. He has been there before and we will give him every bit of help we can for him to come back stronger.”
That brings us to today, when we still don’t know exactly when Bielik will return. ACL tears always lead to a lengthy absence, so we can only reasonably hope for the player to return towards the end of 2021.
In the meantime, Derby will fight to remain in the Championship. They’re only a few points clear of the bottom three having played more games than the teams below them. It would really be a blow to Bielik to see Derby relegated when his injury situation makes a transfer difficult.
How did Derby sign Bielik?
Derby’s Head of Recruitment spoke earlier this year about how they signed the former Arsenal youngster.
“The Academy scout very young, but as a first-team scouting department we start at under-18s,” said Derby’s Head of Recruitment, Joe McClaren in an interview with Luke Ingram of Rampage magazine.
“We look at teams lower than us for buying options, but we also look at teams bigger than us for dropouts or future loans, which we have been successful with in the past.
“The reason we like to track them from young is you get a good idea of their trajectory. Have they got more in them or are they plateauing? Why have they done well as a youngster and is there still something we can get from them?
“Also, to see their character as well coming through the ranks. Have they played in big games and how have they reacted to them?
“We track those players for a long time and Krystian is one of them.
“He went to Arsenal when he was 16 and as soon as he touched down in England, we knew about him and we watched him. At the time, we were not watching him to sign as a permanent but definitely as a loan option.
“He then went to Charlton Athletic on loan in League One, which is another league we have to cover strongly. We watched him in big games where he stepped up and brought the best out of his teammates,” McClaren recalled.
“Phillip Cocu came in (as Derby manager) and a holding midfielder was someone he needed. We presented Krystian and at the time he was in a crossroads at Arsenal and the permanent (transfer) option came up.
“Profile-wise, it fit perfectly. He was a Polish international, had just played in the Under-21 European Championships and, value-wise, we had good pedigree.
“With Krystian, we knew that he was well known all over Europe. So in terms of value protection, you know that people all over are watching him. An Italian team (AC Milan) were in for him at the time as well, so you knew everyone had eyes on him.
“Overall, it was a great profile and when it became apparent that we could do it on a permanent, it was a no-brainer.”