Anyone remember Slovak football?

With all the excitement over the World Ice-Hockey Championship in Slovakia at the moment, you would hardly know that the game of football exists, let alone that there is a potential Corgoň Liga title-decider this week, or the final of the Slovak Cup at the weekend.

Football was, of course, always going to struggle to get any of the limelight during this period but it didn’t help itself last Friday evening when a brainless MŠK Žilina met a calculatingly cynical SK Senica and produced a game which only made you constantly look at your watch and count down the minutes till the evening’s hockey match was due to start. Anyway, Senica won and now face Slovan Bratislava tomorrow in that potential decider mentioned in the opening paragraph.

So, hockey and football have combined to put the latter in a rather poor light. Another effect of the hockey is that, because the newspapers are absolutely full of it, you have to look that bit harder to find football stories. But there were two in Saturday’s edition of Šport which, in normal circumstances, would have enjoyed rather more prominence than they actually did since, in Stanislav Varga and Vladimir Weiss, they concerned two of the Slovak game’s better-known figures.

Varga, who won 54 caps for Slovakia as a player and whose club career included spells with Sunderland (twice) and Celtic, recently took over as coach of third tier side Odeva Lipany. On the face of it, this is a move which suits all parties. Lipany are Varga’s hometwon club and were in need of a coach following the resignation of previous incumbent Jozef Kostelník. Varga himself, currently a member of the Slovak national team’s staff, has had his application to train for a UEFA Pro Licence coaching certificate delayed and, with time to fill before Slovakia’s next Euro 2012 qualifier against Andorra, now has the opportunity to gain useful experience. Until Saturday’s 1-0 defeat by Prešov’s reserve side, things were going well for Lipany under Varga ; with seven points from three matches, they had lifted themselves to a safe looking ninth position in the 16-team II Liga Východ.

Asked about his style of coaching, Varga says that he wants his players to look forward to training rather than see it as a chore. He also praises the training programme put in place by Kostelník, saying it is not in great need of change. When he is questioned about the best coaches he’s had first-hand experience of, there is both predictability and the odd surprise in his answers. He thinks highly of Martin O’Neill, who managed him at Celtic, and, of course, of Weiss. Interestingly, he also puts in a good word for Roy Keane, a team-mate at Celtic but also, as Sunderland manager, the man who ended his second spell on Wearside.

As Varga takes his first steps as a head-coach, Weiss is clearly looking to branch out. In common with many national team coaches, he is frustrated at the lack of day-to-day contact with players and wishes to be employed again as a club coach. He has expressed interest in vacancies in Russia, in particular the one at Dinamo Moscow, recently offered to (and turned down by) Wolfsburg boss Felix Magath.

Weiss appears confident in his ability to combine a club job with his position as Slovakia coach. With all the technology available nowadays, he says, there is no great need for him to travel all over the place to watch Slovak players in club action ; three satellite TVs at home can provide him with most of the evidence he needs to assess their current form. Likewise, TV and the internet are also good ways to gain information on the likely tactics of forthcoming opponents. Weiss is not even daunted by the example of Guus Hiddink, who had a rather mixed time in dual roles with Chelsea and the Russian national team. The Russians, claims Weiss, simply self-destructed and that was neither Hiddink’s fault nor a result of his having to juggle two jobs.

It will be interesting to see how all this works out. There is a fairly clear connection between the Varga and Weiss stories since it may well be that the more experience people on the Slovakia coaching-staff, such as Varga, obtain, the less hands-on Weiss will need to be, increasing still more the likelihood of him taking on a club job.

I would also speculate that Weiss would probably prefer to put some distance between himself and the complicated politics which seem to be a feature of life within Slovenský futbalový zväz (SFZ). If he is able to do that, we might even see a renewed freshness in his work with the Slovakia team. Varga, meanwhile, appears to be doing the right thing in learning his trade at what appears to be a well-run lower-division club.

The job prospects of Varga and Weiss may have implications for the future of Slovak football but I am not under the illusion that they are of much interest to many sports fans here at the moment. All the talk in the country is of Tuesday’s hockey game against Russia and quite right too – I’m pretty excited about it myself. Just look elsewhere for analysis of why Slovakia are so crap at power-plays and don’t be surprised if Vladimir Weiss fetches up in Moscow in the not too distant future or Stanislav Varga makes a decent top-level coach one day.
By James Baxter, BritskiBelasi

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