Archive for March, 2011

Mar 07 2011

Britski Belasi’s Spring Transition

Published by under Domestic

Britski Belasi is officially in a transition period.

With a change to my work schedule allowing an earlier-than-planned move to Bratislava, I fully intended to get to a match during this trip.  This is my first real time back in Slovakia since starting the blog so match reports and insightful observations on teams, tactics and players in the Corgon Liga have been mainly offered by Zilina fan James Baxter, to whom I am extremely grateful.

With James up in Zilina and myself being based in Bratislava, I feel the blog will benefit greatly from our differing perspectives on domestic football so I was obviously delighted when I checked the fixtures and saw that Slovan Bratislava were at home on my first weekend back in town.  Slovan would face lowly Tatran Presov, fresh from last week’s surprise victory over Zilina which injected immediate life back into proceedings at both ends of the Corgon Liga.

I have obviously tried hard to keep up with the league and Slovak football online from Holland, but there is no comparison to attending matches, and picking up a daily copy of the excellent Sport newspaper.  Moving to Slovakia, I fully intend to take the insight to another level throughout the remainder of this season.  By standing on the terraces, reading the papers and the occasional Slivovice session, I may even start improving my grasp of the language!

We have built up a great co-operation with the superb European Football Weekends website where there are several offerings available from Slovakia including a recent write-up by James on Dubnica v Kosice.  We’d obviously like to continue sharing our best stuff with EFW, but it is my intention to get to as many games and grounds as possible while I’m here, and to use my experiences to continue improving the blog.  After all, it’s a pretty small select bunch who really want to read about Slovak football every week and Britski Belasi is the place to come for that!

Moving to a new country with a small baby and a minimally furnished apartment obviously poses logistical priorities and unfortunately an internet connection at home looks like it will have to wait until next time. I did finally upgrade to a ‘smart-ish’ phone, which should enable me to tweet live from games.  My attempts at sorting this in time for the Slovan match also proved unsuccessful, I eventually discovered that the phone had faulty software and had to return it the store just before kick off.

Readers and contributors to the blog are very much what make it tick, so we’ll also be posting in advance of matches, to see if anybody fancies meeting up.  Please do keep reading, commenting and those guest articles are also always welcome.

In the meantime, please bear with me while I sort out the basic technicalities involved in running a successful blog and watch this space for a full photo-report from Slovan v Presov, coming very soon!

8 responses so far

Mar 04 2011

In Depth: Robert Jež leaves Zilina for Górnik Zabrze

Published by under Domestic

Žilina’s spring got off to a poor start on Saturday when they were beaten 2-0 away to Tatran Prešov. At the risk of over-analysis, several factors could account for this surprising result. Firstly, Prešov, despite their lowly league position, are capable of being a very good team and can upset any opponent when they’re in the mood. In Ladislav Pecko, they also have a fine coach, one who won the Corgoň Liga in with Slovan Bratislava in 2009 before being ridiculously sacked. The English equivalent of Pecko fetching up in Prešov would be Carlo Ancelotti losing his job at Chelsea before agreeing to take over at Wolves.

Žilina also fell for the ‘icy day in the far east’ factor, the Slovak equivalent of the notion that aspiring Premier League champions have to prove they can emerge unscathed from ‘wet and windy nights in Blackburn or Bolton’. Pecko himself was saying ahead of Saturday’s game that the pitch in Prešov was unplayable. It seems, however, that he at least selected the right players to perform on it, unlike Pavel Hapal, who included Momodou Ceesay in his starting XI. Ceesay is an eccentric talent, capable of moments of ‘how the hell did he do that?’ brilliance, but he can also look hopelessly unco’ordinated, even on pristine surfaces. At Prešov, he resembled a baby giraffe forced to take its first faltering steps on a frozen lake. Ivan Lietava should have played. Also a tall man, he might not have found life easy either but he would at least have made sure his markers endured a tough time.

Essentially, though, this is ‘only gossip’, as the great Jimmy Sirrel might have said. One defeat, a long way from home and in adverse conditions, isn’t that important in itself. The real worry for Žilina fans lies in the fact that the game was their side’s first since Tuesday’s surprise departure of Robert Jež and thus suggests that life without the captain might become a bit of a struggle. The word ‘surprise’ should be qualified a little first because we’ve kown Jež was leaving since he signed a contract with Polish club Górnik Zabrze in January. But this was to become effective only from July, the agreement being that Jež would continue to captain Žilina through this spring. What happened early last week is not clear but we can only assume that Górník must have decided they needed their man early and offered a transfer fee acceptable to Žilina owner Jozef Antošík. Anyway, both Hapal and Jež have since openly admitted that they had no say in the matter.

Many neutral observers would agree that Jež has been the best Slovakia-based footballer of the last five years (some would make a highly respectable case for Karim Guédé). More personally, Jež was, right up to his departure, my favourite Žilina player. He doesn’t often attempt the spectacular and he doesn’t have outrageous tricks or even great pace. And he is certainly not the kind of player to make clenched fist gestures, kiss the club badge or use the media to tell the fans how much he loves them. He is simply an excellent professional, a diligent, skillful player with a technique that looks both natural and worked-upon and a captain who leads by example. In short, he’s the type you notice most, and miss badly, when he’s not around.

Jež joined Žilina from Viktoria Plzeň in the summer of 2005. His debut coincided with a wonderful performance from newly-promoted Nitra who, with a hat-trick from Robert Rák, left Štadión pod Dubňom with a 5-2 victory. Jež, playing in the centre of midfield, had a respectable enough game and a decent enough first season but he really began to flourish in Pavel Vrba’s 2006/2007 championship winning team. Now playing on the left as a kind of inside-out winger, he became especially good at taking passes from the central areas and cutting inside to open up space for Vladimir Leitner’s rampages down the flank. When Slovenian playmaker Dare Vršič left at the end of that season, Jež returned to central midfield, a position he made most, though by no means all, his subsequent appearances in.

Jež is a highly versatile player, however, and has played in just about all the coventional  formations you could name. He is a creative, attacking midfielder by nature, though he can play the holding role too if required. His main strengths lie in simple things ; finding space, ball control, passing and movement. His basic skills are so sound that he almost never takes more than the minimum number of touches needed to manipulate the ball most effectively. I’ve lost count of the number of times a Žilina player has scored a goal and I’ve wondered how the ball has found its way to him. The answer, more often than not, has been that Jež has delivered a perfectly timed, perfectly weighted pass.

Speaking of goals, Jež doesn’t score many of them. He’s admitted himself that he should have made a greater contribution to Žilina in this regard. But I think it would be fairer to say that he doesn’t score cosmetic goals, such as late consolations or fourth goals in 4-0 wins. Last season, his tally was four, not great, on the face of it, for an attacking midfielder in a championship winning team, until you realise that three of them were winning goals in the last 15 minutes of close games. That’s six points he earned for the team from an area of his game regarded as a weakness.

After all that, then, why is Jež going to Górnik Zabrze? I do not wish to be disrespectful of either that club or the league it plays in but you do wonder if this move really represents a step forward. It might, of course, be that being the best player in the Slovak league doesn’t mean very much these days, or that Polish football is better than I’m giving it credit for. I also wonder if other potential suitors saw Jež play in the Champions League and decided that, based on what he showed then, he wouldn’t  add anything significant to a team in a stronger domestic league than Poland’s or Slovakia’s.

It is certainly true that Jež did not give one outstanding performance during the Champions League group stages. But the only Žilina players who did were Mario Pečalka and Babatounde Bello and neither of them were consistent through the whole campaign (Bello, in fairness, was injured for two matches). Jež was at least solid in all the games, typically setting up the two goals Žilina scored which might have affected results. And, while the 0-7 home defeat by Marseille was hardly his finest hour, he was still trying to pass and move right to the end of even that desperate occasion. Afterwards too, he performed his off-field duties with courtesy and dignity, making no excuses for his own or his team’s shortcomings.

The Champions League is gone now, of course, and Žilina’s immediate priority has to be to find a way of tackling the Corgoň Liga without Jež at the heart of the team. They could attempt to replace him like-for-like or go for an alteration to the whole formation. Whatever they decide, there should be enough depth in the squad to ensure that the title is successfully defended. I’ll be happy if that proves to be the case but nothing will alter my perception of Robert Jež as one of the finest professionals I’ve ever had the pleasure of watching over a long period of time. I hope all goes well for him with Górnik Zabrze.

James Baxter


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