After former football coach Vladimir Weiss stepped down as Slovakia’s football manager in January, the Slovak football association (SFZ) has decided to utilise the unorthodox option of employing two national coaches. James Baxter gives us his view on the situation and an insight into the new managers.
Griga and Hipp to be Joint Coaches
‘Both coaches are equal. But will one coach be more equal than the other?’ I hope and believe not, but that was the first question that occurred to me on Thursday when it was officially announced that Stanislav Griga and Michal Hipp will jointly leadSlovakiathrough qualifying for the 2014 World Cup.
Their appointment comes after an unsurprisingly (this is the SFZ we’re talking about) bungled recruitment process. When Vladimír Weiss quit as head coach ‘by mutual consent’ in January, the SFZ quickly set their sites exclusively on Pavel Vrba, despite the fact that there were other coaches around who were clearly worth talking to. ‘Vrba’s the one we want,’ said SFZ president Ján Kováčik. ‘I’ll sort out the end of his contract with (Viktoria Plzeň owner) Tomáš Paclík and he will join us in the summer.’ It didn’t work out that way. Paclík insisted on Vrba honouring his deal – it runs to 2013 – and Kováčik had to implement a Plan B he had never actually formulated.
In a sense, Kováčik has got lucky. Griga, always an excellent candidate, took no apparent offence at being completely ignored during the pursuit of Vrba. ‘I’m50,’he said. ‘When am I going to take the job if not now?’ With his rich experience of coaching at club level in both the Czech and Slovak republics, as well as a stint as Slovakia Under-21 coach (2000-2001), he will be a familiar and reassuring figure on the touchline.
Hipp, a long-term assistant to Weiss at both club and international level, didn’t feature much in initial media discussions over the head coach’s job, but he was in charge of the team in a caretaker capacity when they earned a 2-1 friendly win in Turkey in late February. He has not been offered his new job purely on the strength of that result, though it did serve as a reminder that he could play a valuable role in the new set-up.
It will now be interesting to see how Griga and Hipp divide their responsibilities. Superficially at least, it seems they might complement each other. If we ignore the natty pinstriped suit he wore when sitting alongside Weiss during the 2010 World Cup, Hipp is a ‘tracksuit coach’. He is a keen student of the game, has a good eye for the strengths and weaknesses of opposition teams, and enjoys working with players on the training-ground. Griga, meanwhile, appears to be the ethos man. Well-mannered and serious, but a disciplinarian when he wants or needs to be, he is more likely to be respected than loved among the players.
Also, the football the duo get their team to play probably won’t differ all that much from what we saw under Weiss. Hipp presumably had some input into the style of play that prevailed under the former regime, though his selection and tactics for the Turkey game also showed he has ideas with which to go forward. As for Griga, his 20 months in charge of current club Senica are evidence enough of his pragmatism. The team has invariably been strong, hard-working and organised. Flair has been encouraged here and there but the priority has generally been to stay in games, to give nothing away. A second-placed Corgoň Liga finish last season and a cup-final appearance this time round suggest he’s got most things right. Overall, it’s fair to say that Vrba, with his more idealistic approach, would have been more of a departure from the Weiss era than these two are likely to be.
Griga and Hipp, both Slovak by birth and citizenship, are proud to be in charge of their country’s national team but are realistic about what lies ahead. ‘We’ve got a lot of talking to do,’ says Griga. ‘We’ve got to speak with one voice in public, and especially to the players.’ Hipp adds that he expects some criticism of the new set-up. ‘(A joint appointment) is something new, and new things aren’t always greeted positively in Slovakia,’ he says. A couple of obvious reasons to be negative do spring to mind. Firstly, how highly do the SFZ really rate these men, given that they didn’t seem remotely interested in them two months ago? Secondly, there’s the salary question. Griga and Hipp are to be paid 15,000 Euros a month each. In total, that’s just 3,000 Euros less than the sum the association couldn’t afford to pay Weiss. Still, it shows that, in financial terms at least, they will indeed be operating as equals.
The new coaches will officially take up their roles on May 9th. Their first match in charge will be a friendly against Poland in Klagenfurt (Austria) on May 26th. Away games in Holland (May 30th) and Denmark (15th August) follow, before the competitive action starts in September.
By James Baxter