May 23 2012

James Baxter’s End of Season Awards

Published by at 5:10 pm under Domestic

Corgoň Liga 2011/2012 – the Britski Belasi Awards

I’m a Žilina supporter so apologies in advance for any subjectivity or lack of wider perspective in my nominations. Alternative nominations are most welcome.

Best Team

‘The best team always wins,’ said the legendary former Notts County manager Jimmy Sirrel, ‘the rest is only gossip.’ That’s very true, and means that Žilina’s double-winners  have been the best team in Slovakia in 2011/2012. Still, it’s fair to acknowledge some of the ‘gossip’ first. With better finishing, Ružomberok and Zlaté Moravce could both have taken 3-0 half-time leads in matches at Žilina this spring. Both paid for their profligacy as the home players ultimately asserted themselves. Also, Trnava and Ružomberok (again) both had reasonable penalty appeals turned down in games they lost 1-0 to Žilina. Undeniably then, lady luck has been favouring yellow and green this year.

But Žilina have also been disciplined, resourceful and versatile. Their defence has been solid, even though Jozef Piaček (its main pillar) has had five different centre-back partners during the course of the season. Behind him, Martin Krnáč has deputised superbly in goal for the injured Martin Dúbravka. The midfielders have switched positions and been consistently creative. No one striker has rivalled Filip Šebo’s scoring exploits for Slovan Bratislava last season, but Tomáš Majtán and Róbert Pich have shared 19 strikes between them. When the forwards’ finishing has been off-colour, midfielders and defenders have chipped in with goals. Perhaps most important, Žilina have a strong squad. Like Slovan, they have suffered with injuries this season, but have coped better with them than the Bratislava team have.

Best Player

Honourable mentions here must go to Senica midfielder Tomáš Kóňa, Paraguayan playmaker Jorge Salinas and Trinidadian striker Lester Peltier (both of Trenčín) and Ruža captain Pavol Masaryk, the league’s top goalscorer.

But there are two truly outstanding candidates and I am unable to choose between them. The first is Žilina’s Viktor Pečovský. He generally plays as a deep-lying midfielder, heading opposition attacks off at the pass, and distributing the ball with simplicity and accuracy to get his own team moving forward. Despite being one of the league’s shortest players, he has even filled in at centre-back. The mistakes he has made this season could probably be counted on the fingers of one hand.

Then there is Trnava’s Miroslav Karhan. With 107 international caps and a wealth of European club experience behind him, he is a player the whole Corgoň Liga, never mind Trnava, is lucky to have. Versatile, and a leader both on the pitch and in the dressing-room, he has been central to his club’s emergence as genuine title-contenders, as opposed to respectable top-half finishers, this season.

Best Young Player

This category presents a couple of difficulties. First, any definition of ‘young’ is always going to be arbitrary. For the purposes of this feature, only players still under 22 when the season ended will qualify. Then there is the fact that young players tend to be inconsistent. Do we look for those whose performances have become reasonably reliable over a period of time, those who’ve produced something particularly special, or a combination of the two? Without being entirely certain of what I’m looking for, I’ve come up with a shortlist of four.

Jean Deza, Žilina’s 18 year-old Peruvian winger, has outstanding potential and has done some extraordinary things this season. One example was his goal at Dunajská Streda last Sunday. His club don’t yet count on him to produce 90-minute performances and have tended to use him as a late substitute, to run at tiring defenders. You can be sure, though, that they will be keen to hang onto him for next season.

Slovan forward Karol Mészáros, also 18, has emerged since the winter break. He has a creditable spring return of four goals and looks a bright, tricky player. Hopefully, the experience of playing in a team that hasn’t lived up to its own expectations won’t have dented his confidence.

Trnava full-back Michal Habánek turned a few heads when, as a 17 year-old, he brilliantly set up a goal for his side against Slovan last autumn. With a total of 17 league appearances behind him this season, he is already beginning to mature and is both solid in defence and dangerous going forward.

One of the finest goals at Žilina this season was scored by Trenčín’s Samuel Štefaník. At 21, he is slightly older than my other candidates, and his greater experience is reflected in the pivotal role he plays alongside Salinas in his team’s midfield. Like Habánek, he has already represented Slovakia at various age-group levels.

If pressed to choose just one player for this award, I would go for Štefaník, but it will be interesting to monitor the progress of all four nominees next season.

Best Coach

Frans Adelaar has won two trophies in his nine games in charge of Žilina. However, most of the important work on the team was not done by him, but by his predecessor Ľuboš Nosický and the club’s backroom staff. Adelaar’s disqualification leaves us with two outstanding candidates. The first is Trnava’s Czech coach, Pavel Hoftych. He took over the reins last summer, in the midst of a boycott by fans, but led his side to the final Europa League qualification round and to a second-placed finish in the league. He has instilled discipline and spirit in his players, and talks a lot of good sense. Points against him are that his tactics sometimes seem over-cautious and that he appears distrustful of players with flair. There is also a sense that Karhan’s on-field presence has been as much of a factor in Trnava’s season as the coach.

So the best coach is Adrián Guľa of Trenčín. Leading a newly-promoted side to fifth place in the league is a decent achievement in itself. Even more impressively, Guľa has overseen some of the most skillful, exciting football played in Slovakia this season. His team have benefitted from their own artificial pitch but their away record, which was fairly abject in the autumn, has improved dramatically this spring, to the extent that they have earned 2-2 draws at Žilina, Trnava and Slovan. Like Hoftych, Guľa is calm and level-headed. He is clearly a keen student of the game and will doubtless come to the attention of bigger clubs before much longer.

Best Fans

There is no contest in this category and one statistic should tell you why. A total of 7,509 people watched last Sunday’s six Corgoň Liga matches. Over 3,000 of them were Trnava fans who’d travelled to see their team play at Nitra. Here are more reasons ; 2,000 or so Trnava fans came to Žilina for a Friday night game in April. Not only did they create as good a footballing atmosphere as you’ll ever get in Slovakia, their conduct was later commended in a letter from Žilina officials to their visiting counterparts. Perhaps we are seeing now what a well-organised boycott can lead to. Last spring, Trnava followers stayed away from their club in protest at the way it was being run. Now, things are being done properly in the boardroom and the support from the stands is excellent. Such togetherness is yet another reason Trnava have had such a fine campaign on the field. It would be good for Slovak football as a whole if this continued next season.

Best Moment
It might not have happened in the Corgoň Liga, but it featured a member club and was almost certainly the moment which gained more international attention for Slovak football this season than any other. It is Peter Štepanovský’s 82nd minute goal, which earned Slovan a 1-1 draw (and 2-1 aggregate win) away to AS Roma in the final Europa League qualifying round last August. Like a lot of great moments, its significance has proved, in time, to be rather transitory. Slovan’s resulting group stage campaign brought credit, but no further glory. They have been third-best in their domestic league over the season, to the great displeasure of their supporters. Coach Vladimír Weiss has seen his own star fade in the months following the Rome game. Karim Guédé, a talismanic player, left the club over the winter. So, indeed, did Štepanovský himself. Yet his goal ensured victory over one of European football’s greatest names. As such, it deserves to be remembered. Hopefully, there’ll be more moments like it in 2012/2013.


2 responses so far

2 Responses to “James Baxter’s End of Season Awards”

  1.   britskibelasion 23 May 2012 at 5:14 pm

    Really enjoyed reading this James, thanks so much for keeping the input going. Guess I have seen enough now to realise that Slovan, and perhaps Slovak football in general are never going to break out into anything more exciting than the odd European run. Quite depressing isn’t it?

    Congrats to Zilina, Trnava and Trencin for keeping positive. Slovan just became dire. What next for Filip Sebo I wonder?!

    Definitely agree with your moment of the season though – nice one for pulling that out!

  2.   Jameson 24 May 2012 at 5:43 am

    It was the only real candidate, in terms of resonating beyond the Corgon Liga. But obviously, Bello’s goal to make it 3-0 vs Slovan was rather nice for us Za supporters!

    It’s weird but I’m genuinely hoping Trnava will take that next step next year and win the league. It would have a historical significance, it would mean sth to what is a real football town and it would break what’s beginning to look like a Zilina-Slovan cartel at the top. One of us wins it, the team breaks up, the other wins it, that team breaks up etc etc.

    Slovan need to get the off-field stuff sorted, God knows how. It’s clear that last year’s title was just a sticking-plaster over the wound of being at Pasienky and even of being dominated by what the fans still think of as a ‘Petrzalka mafia’. I think they’d swap titles and cup runs for having what Trnava have, ie a club identity.

    I’m not sure it’s just ‘the odd European run’, though. With Artmedia, Za twice and Slovan, it’s four group stage apps in 7 years. That’s not that bad, though I’d agree there’s a sense they’ve all been one-offs rather than representative of a healthy domestic set-up.

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