Oct 02 2012

Youngsters in the Corgon Liga

Published by at 7:29 am under Domestic

Below are two quotes which I think define this Corgoň Liga season so far :

‘Our fans didn’t deserve that. It’s time to freshen the side up with some younger players.’

Myjava coach Ladislav Hudec, speaking after a 2-0 home defeat by Nitra in early August.

‘When you’ve gone four games without a win with older players in the team, it’s time to give the youngsters a chance.’ Žilina coach Frans Adelaar explaining changes to his line-up for the away game at Banská Bystrica in mid-September.

Myjava’s fortunes have improved since Hudec expressed his dissatisfaction. They are still not the league’s most youthful side but they recently terminated the contracts of veterans Zdeno Štrba and Pavol Straka (in very amicable fashion it has to be said – both players were publicly thanked for their services before a recent home game), while the likes of Slovakia’s Under-21 goalkeeper Michal Šulla and 23-year old Peter Sládek have been key figures in their rise up the table.

For their part, Žilina have sent established striker Tomáš Majtán on loan to Baník Ostrava, and dropped Peter Šulek to the B-team. 34-year old club captain Miroslav Barčík has only been used from the substitutes bench in recent weeks. By contrast, teenagers Milan Škriniar, Jaroslav Mihalík, Miroslav Kačer and Jean Deza have been getting opportunities in the starting line-up.

There are similar trends at other clubs. Vion Zlaté Moravce’s recent surge up the table is largely due to the excellent form of two former members of the Žilina academy, Michal Škvarka and Adam Žilák, both of whom have just turned 20. Trenčín sold two of their best players from last season, Lester Peltier and Filip Hlohovský, to Slovan Bratislava. Their places have been taken by teenager Marek Frimmel and 20-year old Jakub Holúbek, with Stanislav Lobotka, another teenager, also featuring regularly.

After Saturday’s 1-1 draw at Banská Bystrica, Slovan coach Samuel Slovák commented on the quality of the home team’s youngsters, two of whom, defender Norbert Gyömbér and midfielder Jakub Považanec, are regulars in the Under-21 squad. Gyömbér spent much of pre-season on an extended trial at Bundesliga club Wolfsburg, where he apparently achieved the rare feat of impressing head coach Felix Magath.

Ružomberok and Prešov are two clubs who have had to use their youngsters, due to spending the summer in financial penury. This didn’t prevent Ruža getting their season off to a highly impressive start (admittedly, they are currently going through a difficult spell), while one of Prešov’s better players at Žilina last week was another 18-year old – attacking midfielder Matúš Marcin.

We probably shouldn’t exaggerate the effect youth is having. Žilina, for example, are hardly dispensing with all their senior players. In fact, their youngsters must feel reassured by the experience and defensive qualities of centre-backs Jozef Piaček and Serge Akakpo and holding midfielder Viktor Pečovský. If the team is to retain its title this season, these three will have key roles to play.

Meanwhile, Slovan, the league’s most consistent team and thus current favourites for the title, rely on players who’ve been around a bit – Marko Milinković, Erik Grendel, Juraj Halenár – for their creativity and goals. They are also the Corgoň Liga club most likely to entice the best players of rival outfits, as shown by the signings of Hlohovský, Peltier and former Senica defender Nicolas Gorosito.

Yet it would also be remiss not to mention that, for all the tried and tested players in Slovan’s team, two regulars in defence, Kristian Kolčák and Lukáš Pauschek, came through the club’s academy. Teenager Karol Mészáros is currently making his way back after injury, but was one of the few to impress in the side’s generally dismal run-in to the end of last season.

Under-21 coach Ivan Galad recently named his 22-man squad for the forthcoming World Cup qualification play-off against Holland. Alongside the likes of Cardiff City’s Filip Kiss and Nuremberg’s Róbert Mak are 14 players from Corgoň Liga clubs, many of whom I’ve already namechecked here. It could be that a virtuous circle is beginning to develop. More first-team exposure for young players means more experience for the Under-21 team to draw on. If the Under-21 team makes use of this and does well, the next generation of youngsters might be more likely to consider staying longer inSlovakiato develop their careers. That would have a positive impact on the quality of the Corgoň Liga, hence better support from fans and sponsors.

We’ll have to wait and see if those things happen, but the presence of so much youthful talent may be what is making the league so unpredictable thus far. Vion had a slow start to the season but their form is now very much on an upward curve. The reverse is true of Ružomberok. Bystrica are regularly praised for the kind of football they play, while Trenčín are entertaining whether they win, lose or draw. Long term benefits are not, the youngsters are at least helping to make this season fun to observe.

James Baxter

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