Archive for January, 2012

Jan 31 2012

VLADIMIR WEISS ENDS SPELL AS NATIONAL TEAM COACH

Published by under International

Vladimír Weiss’s three-and-a-half year spell as coach of the Slovakia national team ended ‘by mutual consent’ on Monday. Weiss and Ján Kovačík, the president of Slovenský futbalový zvaz, agreed that, upon termination of his contract, Weiss would receive just over 100,000 Euros, the equivalent of three months salary.

Praise for Weiss’s achievements and a sense of disappointment, even dismay, at his departure, figure prominently in the initial reactions to the news from players, fellow coaches and other football people. The evident tensions between Weiss and the association are also mentioned by some and indeed it’s not difficult to imagine that Kovačík and the coach will feel relief that they will no longer have to work closely together.

But it’s those achievements that need highlighting first. Let it never be doubted that Weiss worked wonders with Slovakia. In the months preceding his appointment, the team lost 5-2 at home to Wales and 2-1 at home to Iceland. If you’d said after witnessing these performances that two years down the line they would be knocking the holders out of the World Cup, you would have been fast-tracked to an institution. But the impossible happened. In qualification for South Africa, Poland were beaten by two late goals after leading for most of the game, the ‘Czech syndrome’ was overcome with a classy performance (and another late goal) in Prague and Northern Ireland, usually hard to beat on their home ground, were easily swatted aside in Belfast. Weiss’s team were often dismissed as limited, but they were also organised and disciplined, and they never gave up. They did turn in an inept performance at home to Slovenia in the penultimate qualifier – losing 2-0 – but made amends three days later by ploughing through the snow in Chorzow to complete a double over the Poles and secure that coveted finals place.

The Italy result itself feels now like one we should perhaps have seen coming, but it was unbelievable at the time. It followed poor performances and results against New Zealand (1-1) and Paraguay (0-2), games where Weiss got things like team selection and substitutions uncharacteristically wrong. But the introduction of Juraj Kucka and inspired performances from Marek Hamšík and Róbert Vittek, combined with generous helpings of good fortune, earned a joyous victory in what was arguably the tournament’s finest game.

Weiss will be long be associated with the Italy game alone but his entire World Cup achievement is important when we discuss his legacy because qualification, and doing more than just turning up for the finals, are the standards by which his successors will now be judged. Weiss has shown that, just because it is a small, little-known country, competing properly on the football field should not be regarded as beyond Slovakia. Whoever follows him will not have recourse to the familiar excuses.

Of course, it is those same achievements and standards which mean that Weiss’s failures, specifically the recent failure to qualify for Euro 2012, have also been judged harshly and why some will say it is right that he is going. On the grounds that ‘you’re only as good as your last result’, that is fair enough. But I suspect that, were it not for certain other factors, Weiss might have been offered the opportunity to put those failures right.

The first is the quality of football. Slovakia were sometimes dull and pedestrian on the way to the World Cup but they could also be entertaining at times. Some of their performances over the last two years, by contrast, have verged on the unwatchable. Seven goals in ten competitive games, two of which were against Andorra, and the inability to create one clear chance at home to Russia – a contest they needed to win – bear adequate testimony to this. There is a sense that, the worse results have got, the further Weiss has retreated into negativity.

Then there are the constant rumours of favouritism and internal conflict. Last year, Weiss himself confirmed that some players in the squad were jealous of Marek Hamšík. What he refused to acknowledge was that, unlike many of his team-mates, the captain appeared to be above criticism, despite some anonymous performances in his country’s colours, and that thus there might be grounds for resentment. Ján Ďurica, whose place in central-defence has seemed unaffected by several elementary mistakes, is also thought to be a Weiss favourite. Meanwhile, Stanislav Šesták, scorer of six goals in World Cup qualifying has been frozen out of a team that can’t find the net without him. Perhaps even worse, Weiss has been casually dismissive of the international claims of Plzeň pair Marián Čisovský and Marek Bakoš, even though they’ve enjoyed Champions League football this season.

There is also the possibility of conflict of interest. Six months ago, Weiss took on the coach’s job at Slovan Bratislava, a club likely to be supplying players to the national squad. This raised the danger of him putting players he knew at club level in the team, even if they weren’t necessarily better than other candidates. Alternatively, he might have been tempted to ‘rest’ Slovan players in, say, an international friendly which preceded a big club game. That’s before we consider the sheer workload involved in coaching at club and international level.

Finally, we come back to a point mentioned earlier, that of tense relations. Slovakia is both a notoriously fractious society and one which relies largely on personal relationships. Weiss has rarely made a secret of his frustrations with the SFZ. For its part, the association tolerated him while he was winning but were clearly not sorry to see his tenure end once he started losing. In that respect, what’s most surprising about his departure is that it didn’t happen earlier.

Discussion will turn to potential successors soon, with Plzeň coach Pavel Vrba, Senica’s Stanislav Griga and the currently out of work Jozef Chovanec among the early favourites. For now, I will say just one thing with certainty ; if whoever takes the job matches Weiss’s 2008-2010 efforts, they’ll be doing very well indeed.

James Baxter

 

 

 

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Jan 28 2012

Slovan Bratislava 2-0 Slavia Prague

Published by under Domestic

For many Slovan fans, ultras, hooligans and friends thereof, this day started early.  An all day tournament in a nearby sports hall brought together 5-a-side teams representing-amongst others, Slovan Ultras, Rum Company Brno, Ultras Martin, Ruch Chorzow, Pressburg Boys, Freefight Blue-White and Austria Wien.  This event, basically a meet-up of like-minded factions of anti-modern football fans and hooligans was taking place just a few hundred metres away from the Pasienky astro-turf where Slovan Bratislava were to host their 3rd friendly opponent of the month, Slavia Prague.

The indoor hall was adorned with banners – the regulars we see at every Slovan match – as well as others from the invited guests. The atmosphere was friendly but oppressive; a lot of beer and stronger alcohol being consumed, the chanting already forceful, hair-cuts, body language and clothing labels said it all.

Meanwhile Slovan Bratislava were preparing for their 3rd winter friendly; against former Czech greats Slavia Prague.  ’Federalne Derby’ the match was being marketed.  A picture appeared on the Slovan facebook page of a pitch-invaded Tehelne Pole – perhaps slightly OTT for a match taking place on the Pasienky astro-turf training pitch.

Bratislava January Football

The modest stand was full as we arrived, at least there were still vantage points to be had on the rolled up turf around the ground.  Pivo, Ciganska, refreshments were available as 500+ fans turned up for the most attractive of Slovan’s warm-up games prior to their winter training camp in Spain.

Slovan started with what must be getting close to Vladimir Weiss’ preferred starting XI; Putnocky-Bagayoko, Dosoudil, Kladrubsky, Pauschek-Kopunek, Milinkovic, Zofcak-Halenar, Sebo, Smetana – and were immediately dominant.  I will apologise now, but this blog post is not going to be about Slavia Prague.  The visitors were awful, and Slovan were far too comfortable from the very start.  Milinkovic controlled play, Bagayoko was regularly involved in attack, Zofcak and Sebo tinkered with positioning; perhaps the only criticism of Slovan’s play was the over-intricasy and a lack of ambition to shoot from distance.

Eventually Milinkovic created a tap-in for Sebo and it was 1-0.  An exceptional 25-yard volley from Juraj Halenar hit the post then bounced out off the keepers dive, that warmed the crowd on a bitterly cold day.  Smetana tried to be awkward but again failed to impress (me) and Slovan eased to 1-0 at half time.

Milinkovic backheel

The second half was very quiet so most entertainment came from groups of fans from the indoor tournament attempting to climb fences to gain access to the awkwardly located pitch.  Piliev was introduced for Slovan but was hardly noticable, Meszáros, Cermak, Kolack and Grendel all played the second half but it wasn’t until the 78th minute when Cermak added the second.  Quite simply, Slovan were far too comfortable in this match, and Slavia Prague were an embarrassment to the Czech league and themselves.  We commented that there was no point in them turning up – Slovan would have been tested more by a team from Samorin or Dunajksa Luzna.  The visitors couldn’t string together more than 2 consecutive passes and looked so completely disjointed you really fear for their survival in the Gambrinus League.

Slovan depart now for warmer climes, a training camp in Valencia including two matches announced so far against Hercules Alicante a CD Alcoyano.  From what I’ve seen in these 3 preparatory matches, Slovan have been comfortable on artificial grass against relatively weak opposition.  I really don’t rate Smetana and I can’t understand why goalkeeper Hrosso has departed on loan to Nitra-Putnocky is still playing very well, but Weiss seemed to prefer Hrosso?  Kopunek is quietly doing the important part of the work Guede did and Milinkovic, Grendel and Halenar continue to improve.  Kladrubsky looks comfortable at the back, but there has been no sign of Had or Dobrotka so far this winter.

Finally; rumours are starting to surface around the future of Filip Sebo – were these boots chosen on behalf of his former – and perhaps future Austrian employers?!

Captions welcome!

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Jan 25 2012

Győri ETO FC 1-1 Slovan Bratislava

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Fresh from a 6-0 win over Pezinok, Slovan Bratislava travelled over the border and an hour down the highway to Hungary’s sixth city for their second friendly of this winter break.  This fixture paired both Slovakia & Hungary’s 2nd-placed teams, but had very much the feel of a mid-week training ground run-out, with the exception of a brief caffufle 5 minutes from time, involving-for Slovan’s part Radek Dousoudil & Momodou Bagayoko.

Slovan take the field in their white 'friendly' kit

Slovan started with a more experimental XI than against Pezinok, notably young striker Karol Meszároš appearing up-front alongside Juraj Halenar.  Meszároš looked as accomplished a player as many of his colleagues, and was a good example of the ‘close pass-and-move’ style teams try to adopt on the artificial surfaces used for these winter-friendly matches.  Unfortunately you fear come Spring back on the grass and with the physical nature of many of the Corgon Liga defences, we’ll be back to more of a long ball style game.

Slovan had the best of the opening exchanges, once again Marko Milinkovic and Erik Grendel standing out in midfield.  There was no real threat on goal though, perhaps Slovan’s play was rather too intricate to produce any real moments of danger.  Milinkovic did test the keeper with a curler from outside the box, apart from that Győr’s defence were relatively comfortable throughout.  It took a mix-up between Meszároš and Jánošík on the right of midfield to leave Slovan’s defence totally out of position, and a quick counter attack saw the hosts take the lead mid-way through the half.

vantage points at a premium

I would like to say more about the hosts, but unfortunately it seems like these friendly games are really not geared up with the spectator in mind.  OK it’s free, but decent vantage points are impossible to come by when forced to stand on the outside of a netted training pitch.  No tannoy announcements, no team-sheets, and no score-board – information is not easy to come by.  Győr’s facilities are impressive, today’s match took place in the shadow of their 16,000 capacity stadium, presumably being better used now the team are performing well at the top of the Hungarian league.  Győr are subject of a UEFA ban up to the 2013/14 season due to a breach of licensing regulations, but it’s not hard to imagine Champions League football at this venue.  Today however, they looked distinctly average, presumably just starting out in their mid-season preparations as their first competitive match is not until 3rd March against Szombathely Haladazs.

ETO Park

Slovan rang the changes at half time.  Filip Šebo joined Ondrej Smetana up front, in what could become the new strike-partnership preferred by Weiss (but not necessarily by me!)  Smetana, discussed in James’ transfer update and my Pezinok report, has his qualities, but somehow I struggle to see him becoming a prolific goalscorer for Slovan this Spring.  He may create chances for Šebo, but I can only see this partnership adding to the fans’ frustrations by conceding numerous needless fouls and offside offences.

Győr’s Slovak left-back Otto Szabó (formerly of Slovan, DAC and Petrzalka) clearly enjoyed playing against his former club.   Szabó marked Šebo on the whole without too many problems, although Šebo’s run through and shot-come-cross deflected off Szabó’s hand and into the path of Halenar who tapped in the equaliser with ease.  Czech-Hungarian Marek Střeštík on loan from Zbrojovko Brno also caught the eye in the second half.  The Hungarian outfit certainly have an eclectic mix of nationalities – English apparently the language of choice for several of the squad.

Bagayoko, Dousoudil and Cikos were all introduced by Slovan in the second half, the latter apparently picking up an elbow injury.  This also wasn’t Bagayoko’s day, after his single-handed destruction of Pezinok, he seemed to be on a totally different wavelength to the players he linked so well with last weekend.  Continuous gesticulating in the direction of Milinkovic and Šebo and petty arguments with the opposition didn’t help his or Slovan’s cause, and he even received a yellow card for backchat to the ref.   Then there was his contribution the needless fracas at the end, I hope Momo cools off and puts his weekend boots back on for next Saturday’s visit of Slavia Prague.

After 65 minutes, we also saw the introduction of Niku Piliev, a 20-year-old CSKA Moscow midfielder trialing with Slovan this winter.  Apparently Piliev was highly rated as he came through in Russia, but his career seems to have stalled in the last couple of years.  He has Champions League experience, but failed to impress the scouts at Slavia Prague and doesn’t seem to be making the grade in the Russian Premier League.  He showed some good touches, an aggressive run down the wing, so this one could go either way.  I understand Slovan will make a decision on whether to take him to Spain after Saturday’s match with Slavia.

1-1 it finished, both teams satisfied I suppose with the outcome of a match that really I can only justify my attendance at by the fact I was driving past Győr today anyway.

150-hardy souls?

Finally, continuing the Slovak-Hungarian theme, a quick mention of Filip Kiss, on loan at Cardiff City from Slovan this season. Kiss is celebrating reaching a Wembley final in his first season in ‘England’ (Wales).  Kiss was leading the celebrations at Cardiff knocked out Crystal Palace last night on penalties.  Although usually used from the bench, Kiss is something of a cult-hero at Cardiff already, and I can only assume will be signing on a permanent deal this summer.  Congratulations!

 

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Jan 25 2012

Slovak Transfer News Part 2

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The winter seems to be dragging on and the restart of the Corgoň Liga season feels as far away as ever but there at least one or two more pieces of transfer news to round up.

MŠK Žilina are understandably pleased with the capture of Togolese centre-back Serge Ognadon Akakpo from Slovenian club NK CM Celje. Akakpo has also played for French side Auxerre (where he made 33 Ligue 1 appearances) and FC Vaslui of Romania and Žilina will surely be hoping that he will help solidify a defence that looked shaky at times last autumn. Akakpo is the current captain of the Togo national team and his career has already been touched by tragedy – he was on the team-bus which was ambushed  prior to the start of the 2010 African Nations Cup in Angola.

Slovan Bratislava finally said their goodbyes to Freiburg-bound Karim Guédé last week. According to the player, they did so in a friendly fashion, despite the club’s anger when he didn’t turn up for their first winter training session. Guédé and his new team-mates, who include Slovakia international Erik Jendrišek, have a big task on their hands this spring if they are to avoid relegation from the Bundesliga, but a 1-0 win over Augsburg last weekend – Guédé wasn’t included in the squad for that game – was a step in the right direction.

Slovan quickly found a near like-for-like replacement for Guédé, in the shape of international midfielder Kamil Kopúnek. Kopúnek is best remembered for the delicate chip, just seconds after coming on as a substitute, which gave Slovakia a 3-1 lead over Italy in the last World Cup, but his career has taken a couple of unfortunate turns since then. Immediately the tournament was over, he left Spartak Trnava for Saturn Moscow, who soon lost their place in the Russian league due to bankruptcy. Then came an 18-month spell at Italian club Bari, but they too now face financial collapse, with Kopúnek among the players to have his contract ‘terminated by mutual consent’. Still, provided economic ruin really isn’t stalking the clubs he signs for, Kopúnek ought to be one of those who, like Miroslav Karhan, proves far too good for most Corgoň Liga opponents.

Another Slovan signing is Czech striker Ondřej Smetana. He has arrived on loan from Belgian club Sint Truiden, for whom he played just seven games last autumn following his move from Senica. Slovan will hope Smetana rediscovers the prolific form he showed during Senica’s fantastic run last spring. Tall, strong and awkward, he certainly makes the long-ball game a viable option.

Other noteworthy moves include Ivan Hodúr’s from Nitra to Polish club Zaglebie Lubin and Marek Janečka’s from Vion Zlaté Moravce to German second tier side Hansa Rostok. Hodúr, a former Slovak international and a very tidy midfielder, will be missed in the Corgoň Liga but his transfer is certainly no surprise, especially considering that he’d fallen out with the management at Nitra and that Pavel Hapal, a former Nitra (and Žilina) coach, is in charge at Lubin. Like Guédé, Hodúr is joining a relegation battle as Lubin are rooted to the foot of the Ekstraklasa

Janečka, meanwhile, is teaming up with compatriot Marek Mintál in northern Germany. His new employers will hope he’s brought his defensive assurance with him from Slovakia. A goal or two like the one he put away in Žilina back in September – a clinical finish following an improbably mazy run from the halfway line – would help as well because, having scored just 13 goals in their 19 matches so far this season, Rostok find themselves second from bottom of their league.

Obviously we don’t know yet whether Akakpo, Kopúnek or Smetana will have club success to celebrate come May, or whether Guédé, Hodúr or Janečka will help their new sides avoid relegation. But good luck to all of them in their new challenges.

James Baxter

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Jan 21 2012

Slovan 6-0 Pezinok

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Slovan Bratislava made light work of their first friendly assignment of the year with a Saturday morning stroll against Pezinok of Division 2 West.  Pezinok aren’t regular opponents for Slovan, and I wonder if this match was organised after the friendly relationship struck up between the two clubs when they met in the 3rd round of the cup back in September.  That day Pezinok made Slovan work hard for a 0-1 victory, Filip Sebo scoring the only goal in front of a packed stadium.  Sebo was nowhere to be seen today, but Slovan coach Vladimir Weiss started the match with what must be considered not far short of a full-strength XI.

New signings Kamil Kopunek and Andrej Smetana both started, along with Dosoudil and Kladrubsky in defence, Bagayoko and Jánošík, Pauschek on the flanks, Milinkovic and Grendel in midfield and Juraj Halenar loosely accompanying Smetana up front.  Kopunek joined Slovan this week as a free agent after a brief and fairly unspectacular spell with AS Bari in Italy following his rise to fame at the 2010 World Cup.  Kopunek was born in Trnava and made 196 appearances for his home-town club between 2002-2011.  Spartak fans say he will face ‘hell’ when Slovan face Trnava and obviously don’t accept lightly his decision to join their bitter rivals from the capital.  Kopunek becomes just the 10th player in over 60 years to join Slovan after playing for Trnava.

Smetana joined Slovan on loan from little known Belgian outfit Sint-Truiden.  He was a regular scorer in the Corgon Liga for FK Senica a couple of years ago but struggled to make an impact in Belgium.  At 6’6″ he adds height to the Slovan front-line especially alongside Halenar, but that’s about all I can say for him after this performance.  He did score a deflected goal but missed numerous chances, worryingly most of them with his head after Momodou Bagayoko repeatedly skinned the Pezinok left back and delivered quality service into the box.

Slovan hit the field running and while this was only the first friendly match in a full program leading up to the Corgon Liga restart on 25-Feb they played with an impressive focus and intent.  Kopunek, Milinkovic and Grendel were too strong for the Pezinok midfield and repeatedly brought Bagayoko into the game distributing to his flank from all areas.  Bagayoko was simply way too good for the opposition and created havoc down the right wing.  At least 3 of the 4 first half goals were a direct result of his contribution.  The fourth was an impressive curling shot from outside the box from Bagayoko’s opposite full-back Lukas Pauschek.

Around 350 spectators showed up on a bright but cold Saturday morning, far more than this artificial pitch is designed to host.  Vantage points were best found standing on rolled up astro-turf and I do hope they play next week’s more attractive fixture against Slavia Prague at a more appropriate venue.

It was 4-0 to Slovan at HT and after a quick turn-around it was almost straight from the restart that another wing-back, Peter Štepanovský added the 5th.  Obviously there were several substitutions in the second half with appearances for the little known Čermák, Meszáros and Szarka and Slovan’s dominance rescinded as the match wore on and the wind got colder.  Szarka added the 6th in the 80th minute to close out a job well done for Slovan.

Credit to Pezinok who came into the match a bit more in the second half, but they really didn’t trouble Hrosso in Slovan’s goal.  The gulf in class was no more evident than by looking at the two substitutes benches.  Slovan had a whole army of substitutes, trainers and coaches all kitted out in the Adidas training gear, while Pezinok had arrived in a mini-bus, only had 2 subs and played in a kit which doesn’t even display their club badge.

Interesting points for me today were that Kladrubsky was playing in defence, possibly a sign of Weiss’ intentions to better make use of Slovan’s most expensive signing in the second half of the season.  Secondly, If Smetana can only perform like this on his debut against a very mediocre opposition, he won’t add anything to Slovan’s front-line this Spring.  Finally, although hard to judge at this early stage, Kamil Kopunek could possibly be a very good signing – one capable of filling the gap left by Karim Guede’s departure.

Next up for Slovan, Gyor away and Slavia at home, before they depart for sunnier, warmer climes out in Valencia.  A promising start, but plenty of work to be done.

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Jan 14 2012

Crisis at DAC Dunajska Streda

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Eleven Corgoň Liga clubs are now in the midst of their preparations for this season’s spring phase. Potential new signings have been given trials and, in some cases, contracts, players have been released, training is in full-swing and the first winter friendlies are being anticipated.

At the 12th club, however, none of this has happened. The players and staff of DAC Dunajská Streda have not reported back for duty and it is, at present, far from certain that the club will be able to fulfil its remaining league fixtures. The reasons for this state of affairs are complex but essentially come down to a dispute between the club’s board, headed by  president  Khashayar Mohseni, and the town authority, a minority shareholder in the club, led by mayor Zoltan Hájos.

From Mohseni’s perspective, the authority is at fault for reneging on a contract signed by him and former mayor Peter Pázmány in 2008. Under the terms agreed then, Mohseni effectively moved FC Senec to Dunajská Streda, a town where ethnic Hungarians form the majority of the population. Pázmány, meanwhile, committed the local government to providing financial support to the club for the following 50 years. In the eight months since Hájos became mayor, however, funds have not been forthcoming. The resulting shortfall, Mohseni claims, has meant that financial commitments to players cannot be met, essential work on the stadium cannot be undertaken and winter training cannot begin on time.

Hájos, naturally, takes a different view. He insists that whenever a local authority agrees to provide financial assistance to a private enterprise such as a football club, it also has the right to scrutinise the ways in which the funding is used. He is also demanding to know whether DAC’s majority shareholders are meeting their own commitments and claims that fans, and the people of Dunajská Streda in general, have lost all faith in Mohseni’s running of the club.

There is no question that the fans are unhappy. A huge poster recently put up near the DAC ground shows a man, who may or may not have been intended to resemble Mohseni, wearing sunglasses and smoking a fat cigar. The Hungarian text next to the picture reads ‘don’t let our club fall prey to fraudsters‘. Crowds have fallen dramatically over the last two years – from around 5,000 to just 1,500 or so – and several matches have been boycotted. 

Mohseni and Hájos appear to agree on one thing ; both say that their wish is for the people of Dunajská Streda to be able to enjoy Corgon Liga football for the foreseeable future. But Hájos has reacted badly to an ultimatum set by Mohseni for the authority to make an agreement with him on a resolution of the crisis by January 17th (next Tuesday). He also strongly refutes Mohseni’s suggestion that the club has become a victim of local political infighting, suggesting that the parties running the town-hall have acted far more professionally than the people in charge at DAC.

Sympathy for DAC will be limited among those who despise franchises. The switch from Senec was, after all, made purely for reasons of finance, convenience and a ready-made fan-base. But the club has given the league a bit of variety over the last three years or so, as well as showcasing some interesting playing talents, notably Leonard Kweuke, now of Sparta Prague, and Michal Gašparík, who went to Gornik Zabrze last year and is now on loan at Trnava. If, and it is a big ‘if‘, DAC are still intact by the time spring comes around, they can start tackling their next challenge – climbing off the bottom of the Corgoň Liga.

 James Baxter

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Jan 05 2012

Fortuna Indoor Tournament Cancelled

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No doubt most football fans in the Czech and Slovak Republics will know that the annual indoor tournament, Fortuna Víkend Šampionov, due to be held in Bratislava this Sunday, has been cancelled at the request of the mayor of  Nové Mesto, the district of the city where Štadión Ondreja Nepelu, the venue for the championship, is located. Rudolf Kusý says that his priority is the safety of people and their property and that UFA Slovakia, the tournament organisers, had failed to put in place certain conditions which would have guaranteed this.

The tournament, held in Prague in previous years, was to involve Slovak clubs Slovan Bratislava, Spartak Trnava and MŠK Žilina along with three sides from the Czech capital in Sparta, Slavia and Bohemians. In truth, sensible people were raising eyebrows at such a guest-list from the very start. Trnava fans caused serious disorder at matches in the Tipsport League, another supposedly ‘friendly’ cross-border tournament, last January and the club‘s bitter rivalry with Slovan, as well as the fact that Žilina fans were involved in trouble at their team’s Corgoň Liga match at Trnava in November, never augured well.

The organisers are accused of breaking a law which states that standing tickets must not be sold for an event deemed a ‘security risk’ at which more than 5,000 spectators are expected to be present. In fact, 7,200 tickets had already been sold, including for standing areas of the stadium. Furthermore, according to the head of the Bratislava police, Trnava themselves had already sold over 1,200 tickets, including an estimated 200 to people believed to represent a particular risk. The police also say they had been monitoring internet discussions between Trnava and Slovan fans and felt these gave rise to the belief that fights were being planned to take place in the city on the day of the tournament.

Kusý and the police maintain too that other aspects of tournament preparation were inadequate. They say that properly segregated areas for fans of each of the six competing sides had not been provided for and that, despite warnings of potential public order problems in and around the venue, the numbers of stewards and other security staff had not been increased.

Technically, the organisers could appeal against Kusý’s decision but, with just three days to go before the tournament was due to take place and tomorrow a public holiday in Slovakia, such a prospect would appear remote.

Reaction from the competing clubs is varied.  Sparta’s Head of Communication, Ondřej Kasík, says that his biggest priority is ensuring that all the club’s fans who were planning to travel are properly informed of what is to happen. Slovan are concerned by the fact that those players selected for the tournament were due to report for training duty tomorrow, four days before the rest of the squad. Presumably, the entire squad will not now start their pre-season preparations until next week. Pavel Hoftych, Trnava’s coach is sanguine, saying that he understands the security concerns and that the cancellation won’t disrupt his team’s training plan too much. The angriest reaction comes from Žilina, where Director of Football Karol Belaník talks of  ‘another national embarrassment’. Those who recall the fiasco of the cancelled Deaf Winter Olympics, due to be held in Slovakia last year, will know what Belaník means.

If I can be allowed a personal opinion, I’m with Kusý and the police on this. There might have been mistakes in the process by which they reached their decision but the decision itself, given the evidence we have and without anything resembling a satisfactory response from the organisers, looks like a sensible one – far more sensible than the idea of bringing Slovan, Trnava, Žilina and others together for a ‘friendly’ tournament without seriously attempting to make it difficult for the undesirables amongst their followings to be present.   

James Baxter

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Jan 03 2012

Transfer News & Speculation from Slovakia

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Transfer news isn’t really my thing, transfer rumours even less so but, for those of you out there who haven’t been able to enjoy themselves over the Christmas holidays for wondering which Slovak footballer is (or may be) going where, here’s a little round-up of some of the activity so far.

We’ll start, not with a player, but with a coach. Ladislav Jurkemík, whose third spell with Ružomberok ended with the sack in September, has signed an 18-month contract with mid-table Corgoň Liga side FC Nitra. Jurkemík has plenty of experience to offer, having also been in charge of clubs such as Trnava and Žilina (with whom he won the league in 2002/2003) as well as the Slovak national side, but there is a sense that his best days might be behind him and an even greater one that he’ll have done extremely well if he’s still in his post when his contract expires.

As for players, the most eye-catching move of the winter so far is Issa Koro-Koné’s from Trnava to French Ligue 1 club Dijon FCO, with whom he has agreed a three-and-a-half-year deal. It was inevitable that the Ivorian would leave Trnava in November, when his agent announced on his behalf that he no longer wished to play for the club and was demanding a transfer. Koro-Koné was one of the better attacking players in Slovak football, his pace and trickery often standing out, but it will surprise many that the gamble of turning his back so definitively on Trnava has worked out as well as this. There is work to do at Dijon, though ; at time of writing, the team are just one point clear of the Ligue 1 relegation places.

Staying with Trnava, the club have brought in midfielder Peter Kuračka and striker Karol Pavelka from Vion Zlaté Moravce with Ľubomír Bernáth, another forward, heading in the opposite direction. Kuračka, who, has signed a two-and-a-half-year contract, is seen by Trnava coach Pavel Hoftych as a stand-in for the injured Marek Kaščák. He is a fine player but is now 33 and has had injury problems of his own over recent months. Pavelka, a tall centre-forward, has presumably been signed as an alternative to Tomáš Oravec. Bernáth, meanwhile, is another who has suffered with injuries but is excellent with the ball at his feet and, if he stays fit, should give Vion a new dimension.

From Žilina has come the sad but not unexpected news that former captain and Slovak international Zdeno Štrba’s contract is being terminated six months early. Štrba returned to Žilina last winter after 18 months with Greek side Skoda Xanthi but injuries and the emergence of several younger players have restricted his opportunities. Štrba says that he is currently fit and would like to continue his career somewhere not too far from home. With his ability to play either as a centre-back or holding midfielder, he would be a good short-term signing for any Corgoň Liga side in need of an experienced hand. Žilina fans, meanwhile, will retain fond memories of his time at the club, particularly his first spell, which included three domestic titles and an appearance in the 2008 UEFA Cup group stages.

Next, a move which involves a Slovak player but no Slovak clubs. International midfielder Marek Sapara has left Trabzonspor for a six-month loan spell with rival Turkish outfit Gaziantepspor. Although he is leaving a team near the top of the league for a side of relative strugglers, as well as giving up the possibility of playing Europa League football this spring, Sapara feels the move is the right one. He played just 220 minutes for Trabzonspor in the autumn, having arrived there (from Ankaragucu) only half-fit after a series of injuries, and needs regular football. Hopefully, this latest move will go well, not least because an in-form Sapara could still be a valuable player for the Slovak national team.    

As for rumours, you could probably fill a book with all the transfer tittle-tattle that appears in the media. Most of it is doubtless the work of agents looking to up the value of their clients and thus make some extra cash for themselves but, for what it’s worth, here are a few of the rumours concerning Slovak coaches and players heard over the last few weeks.

Again, we’ll start with a coach. No sooner had the final whistle blown on Slovan Bratislava’s 2-3 Europa League defeat at home to Salzburg than Vladimír Weiss’s name was being linked with Dinamo Zagreb, who had sacked Krunoslav Jurčić following their disgraceful 1-7 Champions League loss to Lyon. The Croatian club later appointed Ante Čačić, but this will probably not be the end of speculation surrounding Weiss, whose tenure of two demanding coaching roles raises certain uncomfortable questions.

Centre-back Martin Dobrotka, one of Slovan’s more consistently effective performers in the Europa League, was soon being talked of as a potential target for Champions League Group G winners APOEL Nicosia. As the side who knocked Slovan out of the qualifying stage in the summer, APOEL will have seen Dobrotka at close quarters, a fact which seemed to add substance to the rumour. The trail appears to have gone cold for the moment, though, with Slovan continuing to hope they might hold onto a player who came through the ranks of their youth teams.

Of all the Corgoň Liga sides, Slovan are the most likely to be found sniffing around other clubs‘ players during the summer or winter break and this period is no exception, with Weiss appearing particularly interested in Senica’s Juraj Piroška. Piroška had a fine 2011, being instrumental in his current club’s title challenge in spring and figuring in the Slovakia national side, for whom he scored in the 1-1 draw in Macedonia. Piroška has excellent technique and can play effectively in any of the four attacking positions in the 4-2-3-1 formation Weiss tends to favour. This is one transfer that definitely wouldn’t surprise me if it happened.

Next, back to Žilina, where the coaching team are expressing their irritation at speculation that Bulgarian league-leaders PFC Ludogorets Razgrad are interested in midfielder Babatounde Bello. As a young player with recent Champions League experience, it isn’t difficult to see why Bello is attractive to Ludogrets. Žilina, however, want to get him fit and playing for them again. He was injured for the whole of the autumn Corgoň Liga programme and his return could only strengthen a team that‘s made it to the top of the table without him.

Ludogrets presumably sees his recent absence as justification to get their man on the cheap and may also have been encouraged in their pursuit by Ľubomír Guldan, who played alongside Bello during his own time with Žilina.

A more likely departure from Žilina appears to be that of left-back Patrik Mráz who is of interest to Polish clubs Slask Wroclaw and Cracovia. His refusal to discuss an extension to his current Žilina contract has, for now at least, resulted in him being dropped to the reserves and thus a move now seems inevitable. Aged just 24, solid defensively, possessing a sweet left-foot and able to take penalties, Mráz should do well in the Ekstraklasa.

I hope that’s enough to be going on with, even for the most severely-affected rumour addicts, because it’s definitely enough for me….        

James Baxter

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Jan 01 2012

Happy New Year 2012

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High time for a personal message from me.  For various reasons, my blog posts have certainly become less frequent of late.  2011 has been a successful year on many fronts, not least here on the blog.  This was a year of steady continuation of what was built up throughout the second half of 2010 and I’m pleased to start 2012 as proud of our Slovak Football Blog as ever.

Thanks in no small part to the contribution of James Baxter, we were able to continue posting an average of 9-10 articles a month throughout the year maintaining a regular and expanding readership offering an increasing number of comments and debate below the articles.  This is the ultimate goal of ‘Britski Belasi’ – to continue raising awareness of the game in Slovakia, it’s endless struggles and occasional moments of glory.  To offer information to folk who may have followed football here in the past and lost touch, or new visitors who want to get up to speed with what’s happening in Slovak football.  That, and of course to continuing humouring certain members of the internet community who just can’t stay away from the comments section of our blog.

There isn’t much written in the English language on Slovak football and it is my full intention to continue 2012 where we finished 2011 with a selection of analysis and review such as this excellent summary of the year from James, Part 2 of this 5,000 word guest article from Alex Anderson, and more of my own match-day ramblings such as Slovan’s last outing against Red Bull Salzburg.

We’re not professionals.  We’ve got family and work commitments, but we get out there when we can, read the Slovak footy press and try to keep the blog fresh, up to date and interesting.  Who knows, 2012 may even bring an upgrade to the site layout!

As for ‘on-the-field matters’, I can’t really add much to James’ excellent review of 2011.  But I can certainly start the year by saying that I’d like to see Slovan perform as strongly as they did last Spring while Zilina and Trnava do their bit to keep the title race interesting.  I am biased here, but I still predict Slovan will prevail come May, not least because European distractions are behind them, the only title rival they play away in the second half of the season is Zilina and their last 4 matches are against Nitra, DAC, Kosice and Presov.  You could argue that those clubs will be fighting for survival and Slovan struggle to put the smaller teams away, but really there is no easier run-in than that.  Crunch time for Slovan will be the first week of April – Senica, Zilina and Trnava within a week.

Assuming it is those 4 clubs – Slovan, Trnava, Zilina & Senica – who enter European competition next seasons, it would be great to see them build on the experiences of the last couple of seasons.  At least 2 of those clubs making group stage competition is an optimistic, but not unrealistic target.

So, Happy New Year to all our readers, contributors and followers.  Your input is much appreciated and here’s to an enjoyable and sporting 2012!

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