Jan 06 2011

Slovaks On The Move … (?)

There are times, especially Wednesday afternoons in term-time when I’m trying my inadequate best to interest B4 in the nuances of some point of English grammar, when I wish I was a football journalist. But now is not one of them because I really wouldn’t fancy the idea of having to make my living from following the transfer window. It must be soul-destroying at times ; you follow discussions, speculative whispers, and finally put two and two together to deduce that Player A is certain to join Club X tomorrow only to discover that, in fact, he is staying with Club Y after all. A couple of days later, you find that he has signed a contract with Club Z, having been in secret (to you anyway) negotiations with them all along.

With all that in mind, the idea of writing an article summarising the likely comings and goings of Slovak footballers this January has held little appeal for me. On the other hand, it does seem worthwhile to have a look at some of the players under consideration and what they might have to offer prospective new clubs.

Nobody seems very sure what the next few months hold for Erik Jendrišek. Having signed for Schalke 04 last summer, he made only three first-team appearances during the first half of the Bundesliga season and looked certain to be joining Panithinaikos on loan. Then a few other German clubs expressed an interest and the upshot is that he seems to be going nowhere for now, other than to Turkey with the rest of the Schalke squad for a pre-spring training camp.

There have been times in Jendrišek’s career when his main strength was clearly his finishing. In the Slovak league, he hit 30 goals in 56 appeances for Ružomberok and formed an excellent partnership with Ján Nezmar duing the club’s Corgoň Liga title-winning campaign in 2005/2006. And it was largely his goals that fired Kaiserslauten to promotion last season. For Slovakia, he scored a famous goal in Prague that earned a 2-1 win over the Czech Republic in qualifying for the 2010 World Cup. But, thanks perhaps to his pace, preference for his left foot and willingness to help out in defence, Jendrišek has often been used as a left-sided midfielder and even, in his last outing for the national side, a friendly against Bosnia, as a left-back. I sense that his versatility would make him a useful asset to a smaller club – after all, one player who can do a solid job in two or more positions is likely to come cheaper than two specialists – but that at Schalke, a big, ambitious outfit, he has not yet been convincing enough to hold down any one role.

A Slovak player whose move is 100% definite is retired international Zdeno Štrba, who is returning to MŠK Žilina having terminated his contract with Greek club Skoda Xanthi six months early. Štrba has been quite forthcoming about his reasons for leaving Greece, which are related to the education of his three young daughters. His signing was not one Žilina were actively seeking but, once Štrba had made clear his wish to return to Slovakia, it was one they couldn’t miss out on. At the age of 34, and with 26 international appearances as well as a wealth of club-level experience behind him, Štrba would seem to be a welcome addition to the Žilina ranks. Coach Pavel Hapal might be wondering where to play him, though. Štrba’s preferred position is defensive midfield, but Ľubomír Guldan is hoping to make that his own. Central defence is another possibility but Hapal has plenty of options there too. Still, Štrba’s versatility will be valued. The fact that he knows and loves Žilina – he was occasionally seen at home games even during his spell with Xanthi – also counts in his favour. As a Žilina supporter myself, I just wish Štrba had been around for the Champions League campaign.

Juraj Kucka, reportedly about to join Genoa from Sparta Prague, is a rather different case. He is a powerful, energetic central midfielder who can both protect his defence and get forward to score goals. It says something about him that he was the only player to force his way into Slovakia’s World Cup squad despite not having made an appearance in qualifying. On his selection, coach Vladimir Weiss said of him that his performances and conduct (rather than words) at the 30-strong training camp ahead of the tournament made an unequivocal ‘you have to pick me’ statement. He was excellent in a late May friendly against Cameroon, truly magnificent against Italy in the decisive group game in the finals and has had solid games in the Euro 2012 qualification campaign so far. Resembling Steven Gerrard in both looks and playing style (the likeness even extends to the pained expression he affects when a miscued 40-yard shot has Row Z scrambling for cover), Kucka could well be a good enough player for a decent Serie A side, not to mention Slovakia, to build their team around for quite a few years to come.

Jendrišek, Štrba and Kucka are not the only Slovak players likely to be on the move this month. This site has already covered Crvena Zvezda’s interest in central defender Kornel Saláta. Saláta could hardly have been more open about his wish to play football in a country other than Slovakia but, for now, he is still training with Slovan Bratislava. At his best, he dominates in the air and plays with a calmness that complements the more openly aggressive instincts of the likes of Radek Dosoudil, his centre-back partner at Slovan, or Martin Škrtel, who plays alongside him for Slovakia. Saláta’s problem, and the reason why Zvezda’s offer seems to be as attractive as any currently on the table, is that he hasn’t been anywhere near his best since about mid-September. Then there is Kamil Kopúnek, who looks like he will have to seek new employers following the financial collapse of Saturn Moscow, and Marek Hamšík, who seems fated to be surrounded by speculation until the day he finally leaves Napoli.

It will be interesting to see not only where, but also how, these and other Slovak players perform over the coming months. With Slovak football’s interests at heart, I hope that any moves they do make will work out well. For now though, I’m happy to leave the ‘real’ reporting on those moves to the proper journalists. Good luck to them.

James Baxter

5 responses so far

5 Responses to “Slovaks On The Move … (?)”

  1.   britskibelasion 06 Jan 2011 at 8:05 pm

    Thanks a lot for this James, it is a minefield, and I get the feeling a lot of rumours are stirred up by agents aiming to profit off the back of a big deal.

    I think quite a few people out there are starting to hear these names but still don’t know too much about the players in question, so it was good to take a look at the qualities of Jendrisek and Kucka.

    A Sunderland blog was recently interested by the rumours around Kucka and spoke to Michal Petrak about him:
    Think several of your points are echoed in Michal’s answers in that interview.

    As for Jendrisek, I guess Vladimir Weiss and the National Team just need him to get some proper football under his belt and get back in contention for the upcoming qualifiers where striker is a position that is certainly up for grabs.

    Kopunek’s an interesting one .. he went out of contract from Trnava then went to Russia where I didn’t hear anything of him, now his club don’t exist anymore .. wonder where he’ll end up! I didn’t see much of him but he obviously caught the eye in the World Cup!

  2.   James Baxteron 06 Jan 2011 at 10:42 pm

    Cheers Dan, that was an interesting chat Michal had with Rokerreport about Kucka. The Roy Keane comparison is a good one as he probably plays a bit deeper than Gerrard. I still say he looks like Gerrard, though!

    I like Kopunek – he’s industrious and enthusiastic – but I’ve never seen him run a game the way Karhan and now Kucka can. Even last season, when he should have been a big fish in a small pond at Trnava, he never really imposed himself on his opponents. But I guess most Slovak fans would forgive him anything after that goal against Italy.

    You’re right about Jendrisek, though you just worry that players like him might become the victims of their own flexibility.

  3.   britskibelasion 06 Jan 2011 at 11:56 pm

    For sure, he needs to find his position and go for it .. it’s not like in cricket where an all-rounder can have his benefits!

    I forgot to mention Karhan in my last comment, surely the Corgon Liga will be better off for having him and Strba back .. even though they’re getting on a bit, their quality will surely improve things domestically .. certainly Trnava will be stronger with Karhan in their ranks .. sadly, one fears, much stronger than Slovan ..

    Pleased to hear from Michal that Ruzomberok should receive 25-30% of Kucka’s sell-on fee to Genoa, which is believed to be € 3.5 – 4 Million .. a hefty sum indeed for them

  4.   Stary Jazvecon 11 Jan 2011 at 2:03 pm

    Left back, Nathan Ashton of Cray Wanderers having a trial at Slovan, it says here. Could it be Mr. Jarolim’s lower English league knowledge has dug up a little diamond, we wonder.

  5.   James Baxteron 11 Jan 2011 at 4:04 pm

    He’s a Premier League star, didn’t you know? Sport said last week he’d made one appearance for Fulham.

    Anyone seen Omone Sodje in action for Senica? Ended up there last winter via York, Barnsley and Oxford. Frighteningly quick but a hopeless finisher.

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