Jan 03 2012

Transfer News & Speculation from Slovakia

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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