Poland, Australia and the Philippines: The story of Ben Starosta who took on Agüero at the Under-20 World Cup

The 2007 FIFA U20 World Cup held in Canada was the making of many a future world football star. The tournament was won by Argentina who boasted the likes of Sergio Agüero, Angel Di Maria and Éver Banega. The Spain team had Gerard Piqué and Juan Mata. Brazil had Marcelo, David Luiz and Willian. And amongst them all was a Sheffield lad whose only senior football experience prior to the tournament was a loan spell out at Conference side Tamworth.

“My grandfather came to England after the war, he was always very proud of his home country and made us aware too so when the phone call came to represent Poland, I jumped at the chance.”

Ben Starosta, now 32, is recalling the time when he went toe-to-toe with the world’s best upcoming footballers twelve years ago. Having grown up in Sheffield United’s academy, the aforementioned loan spell at Tamworth was the only senior experience he had before jetting off to Canada with the Poland under-20 side. He had only received his Polish passport earlier that year, qualifying through his grandfather’s heritage.

In a Poland team which included Wojciech Szczęsny and Grzegorz Krychowiak, they were drawn in a group alongside the USA, South Korea and the giants of Brazil. Starosta went headfirst into the tournament and was not fazed by his company.

“I thought the World Championships would have been a huge step up playing against the likes of Pato, Agüero, Marcelo and Di Maria but you just seem to up your game. Believe in your ability and get on with it.” he says modestly.

“It was a great experience and the best atmosphere I’ve ever witnessed. I would have to say there was a lot more pressure on my shoulders.”

The defender’s side made a great start to the tournament, defeating a very strong Brazil side 1-0 in front of over 50,000 fans in Montréal but their fate hung in the balance after suffering a 6-1 thrashing to the hands of the US.

Their final match was against South Korea and despite failing to win, a 1-1 draw was enough to see them through to the last 16. It was here where they would become unstuck but losing to eventual winners Argentina was no disgrace, especially when the goalscorers were Agüero and Di Maria. Starosta started all four of his country’s matches in the tournament and unsurprisingly still rates the experience very highly.

“It was a great honour every time I represented Poland. Playing for them in the World Cup in Canada has got to be my biggest achievement for me and my family.”

Starosta (right) against Brazil

After the high of competing with the world’s best, the defender returned to reality with a loan spell at League Two club Brentford. Two more loan spells in the same division would follow with Bradford City and Aldershot before a fifth and final loan spell away from Sheffield United would offer something entirely different. He joined Polish top flight side Lechia Gdańsk in September 2008 and wasn’t worried about settling in.

“I had visited Poland and family previously,” he says. “I also spent a lot of time at training camps on international duty while trying to learn the lingo as much possible.

“There’s only one way to adjust for me and that’s throwing yourself right in the deep end, giving it 100% and making the best of your experience.”

He made eight league appearances in the first half of the season, enjoying his first taste of top flight action before returning to the UK for short spells with Darlington and Alfreton Town. However, it wouldn’t be long until he was heading abroad once more, this time a lot further from home as he boarded a flight to Australia.

“I originally was supposed to go over on a two-month visa slot for Melbourne Victory, as one of their foreign players was injured but I ended up signing for Dandenong Thunder in the Victoria Premier League.

“The standard was ok, competitive. It wasn’t the most challenging league I’d played in but another great experience.”

By now, Starosta was used to playing away from home and he was soon jetting all across the world. First came a trial with Greek side Aris Thessaloniki but it was then time to head to his grandfather’s homeland once more.

“I got a phone call from Miedz Legnica [third-tier at the time]. They explained their ambition as a club and what they wanted to achieve. I actually caught a flight home early from Greece and straight to Poland. I felt I had unfinished business there having only been on loan previously and it was another chance to spend quality time there learning the language of my grandfather’s country.”

He became a regular at the third-tier club and with several new players signing alongside the former Poland youth international, Miedz comfortably won the league by five points, securing promotion to the second-tier. Starosta had become a regular in the side, going on to make 19 league appearances that season and his success that year is only beaten by his time at the U20 World Cup.

“I think any promotion is special and I’m over the moon and proud that I got to experience one in my career. There was a lot of pressure on us because the club brought in lots of new players to suit their ambition. To do it at the first time of asking was amazing, we had a very special group of players.

“It’s right up there with my achievements in football.”

After a couple of appearances the following season in the higher division, Starosta briefly returned to the UK at the end of 2012 before an opportunity arose out of the blue for him to play in a continent he had not yet experienced, Asia and more specifically, the Philippines.

Out on loan at Brentford

After a phone call from an agent, he was given just two days to make a decision on whether to join former Rangers and Burnley defender Brain Reid’s club Global FC in the top flight of football in the country. They would also be playing in the AFC Cup that year, Asia’s equivalent to the Europa League. It wasn’t a hard decision for the former Sheffield United youngster to make.

“I didn’t hesitate as Asia was somewhere I’d always wanted to experience. The Philippines was great for me, the standard of the league was growing.

“We travelled to play outside the country in completions such as the Singapore Cup and the AFC Cup.”

In his first year with the club, the side finished as runners-up in the United Football League and reached the semi-finals of the Singapore Cup. The following year, he would leave the club partway through the campaign but he had helped set them on the path to lifting the title. He also had a spell captaining the club and certainly seemed to enjoy his spell in Asia.

“I was well looked after over there and lived in Manila the capital, it’s like being in America. An hours drive away you could be in paradise or a little 40 minute flight away you had Boracay or Palawan the most beautiful little islands. I was there nearly 2 years and enjoyed every minute.”

After his time in the Philippines, Starosta returned to England to be reunited with Reid who was now in charge of National League side Nuneaton Town. He now works as a coach at Northern Counties East Football League side Parkgate and despite being just 32, he now sees his future in that side of the game.

“I’ve got my UEFA B coaching license with all the Youth Modules and I’m not stopping there – I intend to take my A license in the near future. I’ve been coaching at both Sheffield Wednesday and Sheffield United Academies with all different age groups for the past five years and now I’m on the management team at Parkgate.

“I’d like to think I’ve gained valuable experience playing abroad, experiencing different philosophies and coaching methods which could only hold me in good stead. 

“I’ve always been open minded and would definitely consider any opportunity put in front of me.”

It’s been a career which has taken Ben Starosta across the world and it doesn’t seem like coaching will stop him travelling.

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