May 10 2011

A Tribute to Marek Mintál

Published by at 11:34 pm under Uncategorized and tagged:

I hope I’m not going to develop the habit of citing When Saturday Comes articles every time I write one of my own but there was a piece on www.wsc.co.uk recently which is relevant to the theme I want to cover here. In contrast to 25-30 ago, it said, there are almost no players today who look likely to become two-club legends. The likes of Chris Smalling (Fulham to Manchester United) and Daniel Sturridge (Manchester City to Chelsea) were given little chance to establish themselves at first-team level before being snapped up by ‘bigger’ clubs, whereas in the more innocent 1980s, the likes of Bryan Robson, Steve Bruce and John Barnes were heroes at West Bromwich Albion, Norwich City and Watford respectively before being sold and going on to become legends at Old Trafford and Anfield.

The argument is an excellent one but a look at the Bundesliga would have uncovered a player who decidedly does deserve to be called a two-club legend. His name is Marek Mintál and, after eight years of distinguished service (141 games, 65 goals), he made a last, emotional appearance in front of the home crowd at FC Nuremberg’s Frankenstadion last Saturday. The Nuremberg years followed six success-filled ones with MŠK Žilina, where Mintál won two Slovak league championship medals and scored 77 goals in 188 games.

Slovak Sports paper Dennik Sport promotes the Nuremburg love for Mintal

Let’s take the Žilina era first. Mintál joined the club from Nové Mesto nad Váhom in 1997, aged just 19. In his first season, he was the Slovak league’s seventh top goalscorer and helped his club to a fourth-placed finish. But his hero status can be attributed mainly to his performances in 2001-2002 and 2002-2003, when, with 21 and 20 goals respectively, he helped fire the club to the first two of three consecutive domestic titles.

I have to be honest here; I’m attempting to do justice to a player I’ve only seen play once in the flesh (we’ll come to that later). Mintál’s departure for Nuremberg co’incided with my arrival in Žilina – no jokes, please, that he must have known something. All I can say is that, in my own time here, I’ve been privileged to see some of the best of the current generation of Slovak footballers in action on a regular basis. They include, in no particular order, Zdeno Štrba, Stanislav Šesták, Peter Pekarík and Róbert Jež. But, while these players do occupy places in the affections of most Žilina fans, their popularity doesn’t match Mintál’s. Mintál is a local boy ; he was born in Žilina. He performed tremendous feats in his club’s first title successes of modern times. He was a fantastic player to watch. He retains close connections with the club and gives his name to an Under 17s tournament it hosts every year. No’one says a bad word about him. His place in the local hall of fame is forever secure.

In the summer of 2003, Mintál moved to Nuremberg, then in the Bundesliga’s second tier, for 100,000 Euros. He was the club’s top scorer as they gained  promotion at the end of his first season and was then top scorer in the whole Bundesliga the following campaign. If he needed to do anything to ensure everlasting popularity among the Frankenstadion regulars, it was to stay with the club and perform well following relegation in 2007-2008. No problem. Mintál remained loyal and top scored yet again as Nuremberg bounced straight back to the top flight.

More recently, Mintál has become a fringe player at Nuremberg to the point where this season he has seen just 125 minutes of first-team action in 15 substitute appearances. That doesn’t diminish his status among the fans, however. He was recently voted into a ‘legends XI’, a team made up of Nuremberg’s greatest ever players. Also, I can personally testify from my own recent visit to the Frankenstadion that his name appears on the back of more replica shirts than that of anyone else in the current squad. But his recent lack of action has frustrated him. He wants to play regular first-team football and realises that Nuremberg, looking to move forward with a young squad, are unable to offer him this. His contract comes to an end this summer and he believes it is time to leave.

So it was all set for a day of tears and farewells on Saturday when Nuremberg met Hoffenheim. Captain Andreas Wolf said ahead of the match that the day would be ‘all about Marek Mintál’, the club programme devoted 10 pages to celebrating his career and the fans, in one of the most wonderful touches imaginable, had prepared a huge banner saying, in Slovak, ‘ďakujeme ti za všetko’ (‘thank you for everything’). Mintál didn’t start the game but came on at an earlier stage than he’s been used to recently, after 65 minutes. Sadly, he couldn’t prevent the 2-1 defeat which, even without Mainz’s win away to Schalke, would have put an end to Nuremberg’s slim hopes of qualifying for next season’s Europa League. Never mind. After the final whistle, there were speeches and a lap of honour. The mutual expressions of affection were such that Mintál was unable to drag himself off the pitch and the fans wouldn’t leave their places until 30 minutes after the game had ended.

“]”]We’d better not run the risk of getting emotional, so what is Mintál like as a player? He is often known as Phantom, a nickname he took with him from Žilina to Nuremberg. On the one occasion I saw him play, a Euro 2008 qualifier in Bratislava between Slovakia and Cyprus, won 6-1 by the home side, I was able to see why. He played in his usual attacking midfield role and kept making runs from deep positions that the Cyprus defence simply couldn’t track. His running style looked effortless – I was almost reminded of the great West Indian fast-bowler Michael Holding – and he seemed to time his arrivals on the edge of the opposition penalty area to perfection. Those qualities, together with a powerful shot, go some way towards explaining why, besides his club records, he scored 14 goals in 45 appearances for Slovakia between 1998 and his international retirement in 2009.

The only thing that remains, then, is the future. Naturally, Mintál is already surrounded by plenty of speculation. He is certain that he wants to continue as a player for at least another two years; no doubt, given the two promotions he’s inspired Nuremberg to, there’ll be plenty of second tier German clubs interested. Another rumour is that he might be persuaded to return to Žilina. As a believer that one should ‚never go back‘, I’m not sure that’s such a good idea. But it has its appeal. Mintál would still be capable of causing Corgoň Liga teams problems and, almost uniquely among Slovak footballers, his signing could be expected to single-handedly lead to an increased demand for season-tickets.

Whatever happens, Marek Mintál has given Žilina and Nuremberg fans a lot to enjoy over the last 14 years. A two-club legend indeed.

James Baxter

12 responses so far




12 Responses to “A Tribute to Marek Mintál”

  1.   Ralphon 11 May 2011 at 5:45 pm

    Excellent piece of writing, James. I really enjoyed reading it and have to say I knew very little of Mintal apart from the 4 goals he scored against Wales ( 2 in Cardiff, 2 in Trnava).Out of interest, why didn’t he go to South Africa? Had he already retired? And if so, was an attempt made to talk him into going?
    I know you don’t believe in “never going back”, but surely he’s the type of player who could be a success at Žilina ?:-) We’ll have him at Brno, if he fancies it;-)

  2.   britskibelasion 11 May 2011 at 10:03 pm

    Agreed, I too feel that this is a superb article, and I wish I could do more to get it under the eyes of Nuremberg fans, their Facebook page has been inundated with tributes to Mintal, I am honestly so pleasantly surprised by this whole story, and the reaction from the fans with those banners was sensational!

    Apologies for photographing the newspaper, but I decided that was marginally more ethical than nicking someone else’s photos, but that banner has to be seen to be believed, all the correct apostrophes too? Must have had some insider Slovak help there!

    The unique angle of this story is with the Zilina perspective, and I think that is what makes it so special, it will be really interesting to see what happens next, and perhaps, based on the kind of guy he seems to be, there really is a chance he might fancy a move back to Slovakia to bring his family home and play a couple of final seasons there.

    Let’s just hope Nuremberg paid him well enough he isn’t tempted to head off somewhere obscure just to cushion his retirement fund, but if any players is likely to return, it’s Marek, good on him, and once again thanks James for a great piece.

  3.   Jon Gouldingon 11 May 2011 at 11:27 pm

    James – an excellent piece about a hero of mine.

    I have seen Mintal play for 1.FCN on numerous occasions and was in the Frankenstadion with other members of the British supporters club of 1.FC Nuremberg for his final game there.

    He has been a true legend at Nuremberg. My favourite moment was his equalizing goal in the 2007 Cup Final against Stuttgart. Shortly after he was carried from the pitch in tears after being horrendously fouled by Fernando Meira (who amazingly stayed on the pitch). The remarkable thing is that Mintal returned to the stadium in time for Nuremberg’s lap of honour which I seem to remember him completing on clutches.

    Hope you don’t mind – but here’s my brief summary of the celebrations for Mintal in the Frankenstadion at the weekend – http://abseitsfootball.blogspot.com/2011/05/untouchable.html

  4.   James Baxteron 11 May 2011 at 11:41 pm

    Thanks guys. Ralph, I remember him having a great game in Cardiff, where all the goals seemed to come from outside the box. Wasn’t one of Mintal’s from miles out after Jones headed a long ball out to him and then couldn’t get back in time?

    Good question about the squad for SA but no, I really don’t think there was ever a question of him coming back. He played almost no part in qualifying and I guess Weiss, who was new to the job, was interested only in players he knew were committed to the cause. Mintal, having quit of his own volition, didn’t fit that bill.

    I’d be as excited as anyone else if he returned to ZA but in those situations you always just fear that it might not go as everyone hopes. Or am I just one of those glass half-empty types? Too long in Sk, if so! Anyway, if he saw today’s game with Presov – an exhibition of incompetence if ever I saw one – he definitely won’t be coming back.

    Dan, nothing much to add except thanks again. Would be great if sb from Nuremberg got in touch but if not, it’s not for lack of trying. That banner is as moving a fan gesture as I’ve seen.

  5.   James Baxteron 11 May 2011 at 11:48 pm

    Jon,

    Your post appeared seconds after I’d posted my reply to Ralph and Dan. Cheers, very glad to read an account from an FCN fan. Part of me wishes I’d been there on Saturday to see those scenes, the other part feels I would have been intruding on sth that belonged to the true fans.

    Any thoughts on Robert Mak while you’re here??

  6.   Jon Gouldingon 12 May 2011 at 7:41 pm

    James,

    Mak is looking good to me. He’s pacy (at least in short spurts)and has a great shot on him. He also likes to take players on.

    As yet he’s not the finished article but I strongly suspect that he will feature increasinly at 1.FCN next season. He scored a super goal at home against Frankfurt.

    He could have reached instant hero status a couple of games ago against Mainz when, in the last few moments, he snuck in to head the ball past the Mainz ‘keeper who had rushed out of his area. Amazingly the keeper stuck out his hand, went unpunished and denied Mak an open goal (as well as 3 points for Nuremberg which would have gone a long way towards a Europa League place).

    He has a long way to go to achieve what Mintal did, but with a few lucky breaks he could establish himself and realise the potential that Manchester City obvioulsy saw in him.

  7.   James Baxteron 12 May 2011 at 11:00 pm

    Thanks a lot. I was at that Mainz game and that incident was, to say the least, controversial. I saw it replayed later and, while the ball was indeed out of the area when the keeper handled it, it wasn’t as far out as it looked in the ground. At the time, I simply couldn’t believe the decision.

    It was my first ever trip to a Bundesliga game, let alone to Nuremberg and it was just magnificent, I loved every second even if it wasn’t the greatest game.

    Hope Mak does well for you next season then. The 30 mins I saw of him against Mainz definitely support what you say.

    Will be rooting for FCN next year. If, as I hope, I get to go again, any chance of getting in touch somehow, perhaps through your blog?

  8.   Jon Gouldingon 13 May 2011 at 10:45 pm

    No problem James – get in touch through the blog or http://www.1fcnuk.com. When the fixtures are released at the end of June 1FCNUK will start to plan some games to visit.

    Flying over to Hannover for the final game of the season tomorrow – it would be nice to see Marek score for a final time, and Mak to make his mark too.

    Agree with what you say – the handball against Mainz looked far worse in the stadium than it did on the replays later.

  9.   Adam Bon 20 May 2011 at 10:01 pm

    Hi James
    Enjoyed this article – regular reader but thought I’d comment since the WSC article you referred to was written by me – very odd to see my stuff mentioned on a site about Slovakian football I just happened to be reading!
    Keep up the good work.
    Adam

  10.   James Baxteron 20 May 2011 at 11:03 pm

    Cheers Adam, and apologies for not crediting you by name. I really liked that article, and seem to recall commenting on it at the time. When I was getting my thoughts together for this, I thought, ‘well, here’s the exception that proves the rule’.

    You’re a regular reader of this blog then? Definitely good to have someone I’ve enjoyed reading on WSC commenting.

    And your English allegiance? I wondered if it might be Wolves(??) I support Albion but the derby defeat the other week was the most painless ever. Really do hope Wolves and Blues both survive the cut on Sunday.

  11.   britskibelasion 20 May 2011 at 11:41 pm

    Blues James???!
    Now come on, no-one wants The Blues to survive do they?!

  12.   Adam Bon 21 May 2011 at 12:38 am

    No need to apologise, enjoyed it!
    Yeah I have a scout around the country-focused blogs every week or two as it tends to give a different perspective on things, which is always useful.
    I’m a Wolves fan so big weekend ahead yes! Be nice to keep the Wolves vs Albion derby in the Prem – and it’s huge for us in terms of the stadium expansion that is going ahead.. all on a knife-edge so will hopefully be smiling come Sunday night.
    All the best guys.

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