However much you love football, certain things that happen in association with it are guaranteed to leave you shaking your head in a mixture of sadness and incomprehension. One of these is the sacking of a manager or coach. Just three weeks into the Slovak season’s spring phase, two Corgoň Liga coaches have lost their jobs and a couple more look unlikely to last much longer in their posts.
Nitra’s Ivan Vrabec was first to go, ahead of last Tuesday’s home clash with Prešov. He had overseen a poor start to the spring, his side conceding ten goals in three successive defeats and rendering the one victory achieved under him, a surprise success away to Vion Zlaté Moravce just before the winter break, no more than a distant memory. Cyril Stachura, an unknown even in Slovakia, has held the reins for Nitra’s last two matches and four points have been gained. Prešov were edged out 1-0 and a late equaliser earned a 1-1 draw against a wasteful Dubnica side on Saturday. There is speculation, however, that Milan Lešický, now a wise old man of Slovak football, will be offered a role in the Nitra set-up.
Saturday morning brought news of a second sacking, that of Trnava coach Dušan Radolský. It is impossible not to feel sympathy here since even a lengthy injury list had not stopped Trnava battling their way to seven points from games against Banská Bystrica, Nitra and Ružomberok. But Radolský’s fate appears to have been decided by his team’s failure to take points from fellow challengers near the top of the table, Slovan Bratislava and Senica. At present, Trnava are giving no clues as to who might take over first-team duties.
Before Vrabec and Radolský were fired, the likeliest candidate to become the league’s first coaching casualty of the spring appeared to be DAC Dunajská Streda’s Mikuláš Radványi. His employers were muttering darkly about ‘inconsistent results and unacceptable performances’ before the club’s home fixture with Žilina nine days ago. If the team didn’t earn at least a point, they said, Radványi might well find himself out of a job. A 2-2 draw earned a stay of execution but two successive defeats since suggest that the Dunajská Streda players could be saying their goodbyes to Radványi quite soon.
If Radványi is sacked, he might well be able to exchange commiseratory messages with Ružomberok coach Goran Milojevič, whose downbeat demeanour in the press conference which followed Saturday’s home game with Prešov was suggestive of more than just disappointment at another defeat. I would say the odds are about evens that both Radványi and Milojevič will be out of work before the end of this week.
It has to be remembered of course that, in most cases, these coaches have responsibilities which extend no further than training their club’s first-team. They work under directors of football and have little or no say in, for example, scouting, transfers or the running of academies. When they are appointed to a job, they are not, in general, allowed to bring their own trusted assistants with them. And they understand very well that poor results, perhaps just one poor result, can lead to the sack.
Yet the impatience of some club owners remains hard to comprehend. The people in charge at Trnava, for example, should have understood not only that Radolský had been handicapped by having to send out weakened sides recently but also that he did a fine job in the autumn, turning a side that looked shambolic towards the end of last season into one that was competing near the top. At DAC, meanwhile, Radványi was getting on rather well, the odd disappointing result aside, until the club’s hierarchy started issuing threats and ultimatums.
The game I attended on Saturday featured two sides under relatively stable management. Žilina’s Pavel Hapal, unusually in Slovakia, doubles up as director of football and first-team coach. His efforts in winning a Championship and securing a Champions League place have not been enough to prevent owner Jozef Antošík’s periodic interferences in team affairs but do seem to have earned a little tolerance for when results take a downward turn.
Vion Zlaté Moravce coach Juraj Jarábek, meanwhile, oversees a side which, in its first season following promotion, has proved clearly superior to at least five others in the league and is capable of making life difficult for the better teams. His job, like the club’s mid-table position, looks fairly secure. It was interesting to hear Jarábek say after Saturday’s game that Vion had just produced the worst attacking performance he’d seen from them. Their finishing, it is true, could have been better, but Martin Dubravka in the home goal was made to earn his clean sheet.
Žilina still appear at times to be playing on the basis of trial and error. Some of the tactics which worked in the second-half of Tuesday’s match against Košice were tried from the start against Vion. Zdeno Štrba played in defence, with Arturs Zjuzins in central midfield and Momodou Ceesay on the right in a 4-1-4-1 formation. The performance didn’t always convince but it was good enough to take the three points. The only goal came in the 50th minute when Vion defender Milan Pavlovič kicked thin air rather than the ball, allowing Roman Gergel to advance before setting up Babatounde Bello for a simple finish.
Hapal’s after-match interviews, though more positive in tone than Jarábek’s, contained plenty of references to areas of his team’s game which need improvement. At least these two men, both doing commendable work, can feel reasonably certain that they will be the ones attempting to remedy their players’ shortcomings over the coming weeks. Meanwhile, any envy towards them felt by Vrabec, Radolský, Radványi and Milojevič would be understandable.
By James Baxter, BritskiBelasi