Jun 12 2011

Corgoň Liga going Retro

Published by at 6:27 pm under Uncategorized

The Corgoň Liga made good viewing for those with nostalgic tendencies this spring as several Slovak players who seemed to have left domestic football behind returned to their roots. It’s a trend that looks set to gather pace this autumn, judging by both speculation and transfers already completed.

I guess we have to start with Filip Šebo, whose wonderful run of goalscoring form for Slovan Bratislava following his transfer from Valenciennes last September not only contributed hugely to his side’s title success but also recalled his equally brilliant performances for Artmedia Bratislava in 2004/2005. I still wonder if Šebo has the necessary quality to ‘make it’ in a better league or score goals for his country against the likes of Ireland or Russia but there’s no doubt for me (even as a decided non-Slovan fan) that his return to Slovakia has been good for the domestic game.

Šebo’s feats easily overshadowed the homecoming of a striker who, unlike the Slovan man, actually figured in last summer’s World Cup ; Martin Jakubko, of Banská Bystrica. Jakubko scored 25 goals in 58 games for Bystrica between 2004 and 2006, when he secured a move to the now defunct Saturn Moscow Oblast in Russia. He later moved to FK Chimki and then to FK Moscow before a second spell with Saturn and, finally, six months with Dinamo Moscow where he only rarely played. Bystrica resigned him last winter but, despite scoring three times for them in 2011, he has struggled with a knee injury. Jakubko has interesting things to say about the Corgoň Liga as a whole, claiming that, in terms of both infrastructure and on-field quality, it has made practically no progress over the last five years. Given his own international pedigree, not to mention height, physique and finishing ability, he ought to stand out next season if he can get himself fully fit.

Žilina’s Zdeno Štrba is another returnee whose spring didn’t go as he or his club would have hoped. I would actually divide it into three quite distinct stages. The first is the opening three games, where Štrba occupied his old holding midfield position and was arguably guilty of slowing some of Žilina’s moves down ; domestically, they had got used to playing at a relatively high tempo. He then moved to centre-back and gave some defensive masterclasses as the side kept five clean sheets and briefly looked as though they might yet have a chance of maintaining their championship push. Then, ahead of a crucial home match with Senica, Štrba injured his back and was ruled out for the rest of the season. Žilina, partly as a consequence I would suggest, lost to Stanislav Griga’s side and continued to fall away badly as the season drew to its end. His recovery is essential if a serious challenge for next season’s title is to come from the men in yellow and green.

It would be interesting to know how closely the players returning to the Corgoň Liga this summer have been following the fortunes of Šebo, Jakubko and Štrba. Whatever the answer, Miroslav Karhan’s move back to Trnava after twelve years away is difficult to better as Slovak football’s most intriguing summer signing. With his 103 international caps and vast club experience, which takes in Spanish, Turkish and (most of all) German football, you would expect Karhan’s arrival to help raise standards at Trnava. Like Jakubko, though, he will have to get used to playing regularly again, having been completely out of the first team picture for the last six months or so at FSV Mainz. For the time being, his superbly taken goal and assured all-round performance for Slovakia against Andorra serve as a reminder of what a fine player Karhan continues to be.

Back at Žilina, meanwhile, we await the arrival of another face from the past. Miroslav Barčík made 279 appearances for the club between 1996 and 2006, before spells with Trnava and Polonia Bytom. I have to admit to mixed memories of him. On one hand, he was a genuine entertainer, with some wonderful skills and, on occasions, a penchant for crowd-pleasing tricks, such as ball-juggles or exaggerated back-heels. Once, as Žilina were playing out time in a comfortable home win, he stood on the ball and did a military-style salute. But he also tended to overdo things, often passing up the chance of a quick, effective pass in favour of dwelling on the ball. I recall him giving a fine performance in a losing cause for Trnava in the 2008 Slovak Cup Final (won by Artmedia) and rather hope that, as a senior member of next season’s Žilina squad, his game will show sense and maturity as well as tricks and flicks.

The transfers of Karhan and Barčík are definite but let’s also allow ourselves a little speculation. Balázs Borbély, former captain of Artmedia Bratislava and arguably (the competition is stiff) their best performer in the 2005 Champions League campaign, will be training with Slovan Bratislava’s first team from Monday, presumably in the hope of catching the eye of coach Karel Jarolím. He has already trained with Slovan’s B team, following two major operations, the second, in November last year, performed by a surgeon who once treated David Beckham. Borbély played only once for his most recent employers, AEL Limassol of Cyprus, in 2010/2011 and in fact his whole career since leaving Artmedia has been somewhat blighted by injury. If Slovan do sign him, and he can get back to something like his 2005 form, he will be an excellent addition to what is already a very strong midfield.

Of course, we should be realistic and understand that these players have returned (or thought about returning) to Slovak football because they are nearing the end of their careers and want to bow out on home soil, or because they haven’t quite made the grade elsewhere. We also understand that, as Jakubko says, Slovak football is not in a great state, on or off the pitch. There is not much that players can do by themselves about issues such as infrastructure and sponsorship but they can help provide a product worth marketing. As supporters, we hope that those mentioned here, all proven performers with vast experience behind them, will contribute to a raising of the level of the game played in this country.

James Baxter

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