May 26 2012

Clubs in Crisis

Published by at 11:00 am under Domestic and tagged: ,


MŠK Žilina are celebrating their sixth Corgoň Liga title of the millenium and Spartak Myjava are delighted with a first-ever promotion to Slovak football‘s top tier. But, as the season draws to its end, there are other clubs who have little to be happy about. Over the last week, more details have emerged of the crisis at MFK Ružomberok. Meanwhile, the players at second-tier MFK Dubnica have adopted a rather novel form of protest at the ongoing non-payment of their salaries.


It has been clear for a while that something was wrong at Ruža. Captain Pavel Masaryk voiced some of the players’ concerns after a 2-0 defeat at Senica earlier this month. In the following days, Peter Hoferica and Miroslav Markovič, both of whom had been substituted in the first-half of that game, left the club. Then it was announced that Aleš Křejček, who took over as coach last September, would also be on his way once the season had ended. The departure of a further three players was announced after the defeat at Trnava in the penultimate round of league fixtures.


Basically, what is happening is a brutal round of cost-cutting, undertaken on the orders of Milan Fiľo, Ruža’s majority shareholder (he also continues to own 49% of Mondi SCP, the town’s biggest employer). Most significant in this is the scrapping of the club’s reserve team, Ružomberok B, who were the only second-string to compete in the II Liga this season. They have done quite well too, and will ensure a top-six finish if they win this Sunday‘s final match. But Milan Baraník, the club’s managing director explains that the budget cuts are a direct result of the first team’s failure to qualify for next season’s European competitions. They finished sixth in the Corgoň Liga, a position midfielder Tomáš Ďubek refuses to see as a disaster‘It’s neither here nor there,’ he says. ‘You can’t say it’s a big disappointment. But the board wanted a European place and we couldn’t fulfil their wishes.’ Unsurprisingly, Ďubek and Masaryk have now made clear that they too will be leaving the club.


This is rather sad news for a club that won a league and cup double as recently as 2006. But itis not a great surprise, given that there seems to have been a fair degree of mismanagement over the last two seasons. For a start, the players’ salaries were often delayed in 2010/2011. Then there was the reappointment of Ladislav Jurkemík as head coach last March, followed, six months later, by his sacking. Disgusted at his treatment, Jurkemík now says he would never consider working for Ruža again. Finally, there was the charade of making the players fund spectators’ entry to matches, as punishment for their cup exit at the hands of lower division opposition last autumn. As for the future, it appears that current B-team coachVladimír Rusnák will now make the step up to the post of head coach. He will need all the good luck going.


Oddly enough, Ruža B were the visitors – and onlookers - when the players of MFK Dubnica staged their on-field protest earlier this week. On their way onto the pitch to start the match, the home players placed stickers over the club badges on their shirts. They then kicked offand immediately put the ball out of the play. Then the entire XI bent down to untie and retie their bootlaces, thus delaying the restart of the game. Captain Matej Ižvolt explains that he and his team-mates wanted to protest in a way which would be original and would not expose them to the risk of punishment by the game’s authorities. ‘We covered our badges to show we were playing for ourselves,’ Ižvolt says. ‘The club hasn’t paid us for three months, so we’ve been playing for free.’


Club director Milan Nemečkay says he felt ‘offended’ by the players’ actions and claims he had already pledged to sit down with them at the end of the season to resolve the salary problem. But Ižvolt claimthat there have been enough promises already. He also points out that the protest had the full support of the Ruža team, though not of Rusnák, who was apparently angry with his side for waiting for their opponents to finish with their laces. The Dubnica fans also showed their backing for the protest, in the form of a prolonged round of applause after the ball had been kicked out of play.


Again, this is a sad situation. Dubnica’s 10-year stay in the Corgoň Liga finally ended in relegation last season. They were always one of the top-flight’s smaller clubs and never likely to challenge for the title, though they did play an Inter-Toto Cup tie against Newcastle United in 2005/2006. Their great strength has been in nurturing young talents – Slovan Bratislava’s Erik Grendel and Žilina’s Peter Šulek both came through their youth system – and have long had a reputation for attractive passing football. But they may now be paying the price for throwing money at last season’s failed survival bid. As for the immediate future, Ižvolt insists that he and his colleagues will fulfil the club’s final II Liga fixture of the season, away to champions Myjava on Sunday. But he is even more firm on the point that action, rather than more words, are needed from the board.  


The problems at Ruža and Dubnica are doubtless just the tip of an iceberg. We know, for example, that DAC Dunajská Streda were not paying salaries last autumn and almost didn’t fulfil their spring fixtures. What will happen to them following relegation from the Corgoň Liga remains to be seen. FK Púchov, winners of the Slovak Cup in 2003, resigned from III Liga západ in March. Then, of course, there is Petržalka. Champions League group stage participants in 2005/2006, they will finish bottom of II Liga this season. Their cash-flow problems must mean that the chances of them fielding a senior team in 2012/2013 can be no better than 50-50. Clearly, a lot of hard work will be needed over the coming months just to keep some clubs in existence.


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