Feb 19 2011

Vladimir Weiss talks to Šport

Published by at 6:05 pm under Uncategorized

We should probably be turning our attentions to next weekend’s resumption of the Corgoň Liga and I would have been all too happy to do so but for the publication in today’s Šport of a rather fascinating interview with Slovak national team coach Vladimir Weiss Senior.

The background to the interview is, of course, Slovakia’s embarrassing loss to Luxembourg ten days ago. The banner headline on the front of the paper reads ‘Weiss didn’t leave the house for three days’, a reference to the coach’s point that, unlike his players, he couldn’t simply board a plane, go back to his club and get the defeat out of his system. With Slovakia not in action again until late March, when a Euro 2012 qualifier in Andorra might be followed by a home friendly with Denmark, Weiss has plenty of time to go over what went wrong in Luxembourg and consider possible solutions. He insists that, although those three days after the last game were tough, he retains the appetite to do that.

Yet certain matters continue to irritate Weiss, the late pull-outs of Martin Škrtel and Peter Grajciar figuring prominently among them. You can understand the coach’s frustration here since the players concerned both saw action for their clubs immediately before and after the Luxembourg game. Another worry is the continued non-involvement of Jan Mucha in Everton first-team action. Weiss reveals that Everton called him prior to Mucha’s move to Merseyside and that he supported the transfer but adds that he would now like to know David Moyes’ immediate plans for the goalkeeper.

Perhaps more interesting is the suggestion that the Slovak players’ approach to the Luxembourg game wasn’t right. Weiss says he understands why the prospect of the Stade Josy Barthel on a cold, foggy night didn’t greatly appeal to players who had, just three days before, been giving their all in some of Europe’s biggest leagues. However, he repeats the point he made just after the game, that Slovakia should beat Luxembourg ten times out of ten whatever the conditions. That statement leads to the one which forms perhaps the most interesting section of the interview ; there is a need, says Weiss, to ‘clear up’ certain dressing-room issues.

Strikingly, the coach once again talks about his belief that the Slovak team lacks a leader. It is surprising that Miroslav Karhan doesn’t qualify, especially given the recent statement by club and national team-mate Radoslav Zabavník that Karhan is an influential figure in the Mainz dressing-room. Weiss is actually full of praise for Karhan, suggesting that the midfielder was more upset than any of the team by the performance in Luxembourg and revealing that Karhan even knocked on his door, late at night in the team hotel, to apologise on behalf of the whole squad. There is an admission too that Zdeno Štrba is still missed and a hint that the Žilina man has been sounded out about a return to the Slovakia ranks. Now seemingly settled again in familiar surroundings, Štrba might be receptive to these overtures. At club level at least, he is certainly a leader but, like Karhan, is in his mid-thirties now. Presumably, what Weiss would  like above all is a younger leader.

And that brings us to the most intriguing point of all. Weiss is open about the fact that there are indeed problems of a personal nature among his squad, some of which date back to the World Cup in South Africa. There were, of course, pointers to this even at the time, not least Stanislav Šesták’s public criticism of Marek Hamšík for not closing down the cross which led to New Zealand‘s late equaliser in the opening group game. Now we are told that some players in the national squad are jealous of Hamšík. They resent his popularity and his ability to make money from advertising contracts. Weiss defends the Napoli player, saying he has earned his high profile through his on-field performances. (Those of us who don’t watch much Serie A, in contrast, continue to wonder quite what the fuss is all about.) In the light of these revelations, from the coach himself remember, we are only left to wonder whether Hamšík’s subdued international performances are a symptom or a cause of the tensions between him and his team-mates. Meanwhile, it is clear that Weiss is not one of those who believes that internal conflicts can be a force for good. He wants to return to the positive team-spirit, which, he says, was such a major factor in Slovakia qualifying for the World Cup.

Obviously, then, Weiss has plenty of work ahead of him. For what it’s worth, I still believe he is the best man for the national team job. His achievements in it thus far are significant, his ‚tough-love‘ approach to players seems appropriate, he is constantly thinking about the game and his tactics are flexible. His openness in interviews such as today‘s could be seen as risky but it is also refreshing and might help keep the media onside. Even if the players don’t like it, none can claim that they have been personally criticised.

But, of course, Weiss knows better than anyone that World Cup qualification and creditable performances in South Africa are history. Good results in the games coming up are what he needs now. It would be interesting to know whether he is happy that the next qualifier is in Andorra but one thing seems certain ; lose there, and Weiss will want to hide behind his curtains for rather longer than three days.

James Baxter

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