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Weiss confident Slovakia can spring a surprise

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Chris Bevan | 21:18 UK time, Saturday, 12 June 2010

At the age of 20, Manchester City wonderkid Vladimir Weiss is the baby of the Slovakia squad in South Africa, but he has already done a lot of growing up during his country's journey to their first World Cup finals.

Weiss is one of the stars of a talented young team that kick off their campaign against New Zealand in Rustenburg on 15 June. At the very least they have realistic hopes of progressing out of a group that also contains defending champions Italy and Paraguay but nobody seems quite sure exactly how good the Slovaks are.

The same can be said about Weiss. I'd heard a lot about him before I spoke to him a few days ago - but I have to admit I've seen an awful lot less.

I know he is a skilful right-winger with eight caps for his country but he has not had much chance to prove it at club level, with only four starts in all competitions to show from his time at City and a four-month loan spell at Bolton at the end of last season.

A series of sparkling international performances since winning his first cap against Iceland last August mean he is much better known in his homeland, but that was not always the case. The only reason he was a household name in Slovakia when he received that first call-up is because he shares his monicker with his dad, who is the national coach.

weissb595x335.jpgWeiss snr's decision to select his son was initially criticised

Weiss, who made an instant splash a couple of weeks after his debut with two assists in a vital qualifying win over Northern Ireland in Belfast, told me: "A lot of people back home were asking why I was being picked for my country if I wasn't playing for my club. But as soon as they saw me play, they were shocked and surprised at what I can do. Now they are saying 'why wasn't he picked earlier?'

"It wasn't easy for me, or for my dad to select me, because some people were always going to look at me as the manager's son. But I knew that situation doesn't just happen in football and I just tried to stick with it and show them what I can do. It's not a problem now."

Perseverance is something Weiss has had to show a lot of in his short career to date. He was a homesick teenager when he left hometown team Inter Bratislava to move to England (on his own) to join City's academy at 15. It must be difficult enough going to live in a different country at that age, but even more so when you consider he didn't speak a word of English.

"The first time I came over to England, it was very hard for me," Weiss explained. "To be honest, I didn't really want to stay. I was always crying because I was a bit of a mummy's boy and I wanted to go home.

"I was living in digs with a family but I was very lonely. It became easier when I started to speak a bit of English, then I got in the youth team and started talking with the other players more and more.

"But what made a massive difference was one of my mates, Filip Mentel, came over from Slovakia too. He was a youth team goalkeeper at City for three years before joining (Polish side) Legia Warsaw last year and it helped me a lot to have someone who was going through the same things as me, and who I could talk to about them."

Weiss, who was a teenage ice hockey star, looks a lot younger than his years but, from talking to him, he seems to have a wise head on his shoulders (if you pardon the pun) and it is clear he no longer has issues with language. He is friendly and chatty - speaking fluent English with a Mancunian twang to his Slovakian accent - and he told me he feels at home in north-west England too.

Things have not been quite so straightforward on the pitch, however. Weiss was a key member of City's 2008 FA Youth Cup-winning team and, with a reputation of being fast, skilful and having the ability to beat his man, he was touted as being the next young star to follow previous academy graduates such as Micah Richards and Stephen Ireland into the first team.

But he has had his path to the first team blocked by a seemingly never-ending influx of expensive signings following the club's takeover by oil-rich Arabs later in 2008, and is yet to start a Premier League game for City.

weiss595x335.jpgWeiss has made only three Premier League starts, all while on loan at Bolton

He fared little better during his short stint at the Reebok Stadium but his lack of club action does not seem to have dented his self-belief, or his enthusiasm - and he made it clear he is willing to wait for his chance at club level.

"I've not played as many games as I've wanted but that is football sometimes. I came to England for the experience, and I am getting it," Weiss said.

"I've not let it affect me - I can't. My game is definitely about confidence and I think that is the most important quality for any player at the top level to have. Anyway, I am only young and I know I have to be patient when it comes to playing time so, when I do play, I try not to worry about things like that.

"When I'm playing, I do like to run at people with the ball at my feet. Sometimes it's hard because if it doesn't work out the first couple of times in a game, it is very hard to go and try it again - but I know I have to."

Weiss will get a chance to showcase his skills to the planet during the next few weeks but he has plenty of other reasons to look forward to his World Cup getting under way. Slovakia's opening match will be a special moment for a young nation - the country has only existed since the division of Czechoslovakia in 1993 - and extra special for the Weiss family too.

Weiss's dad, who at 45 is the youngest coach in South Africa, was a midfielder who played 19 times for Czechoslovakia, including their game against hosts Italy at the 1990 World Cup, while his grandfather, now 70, won three caps as a centre-back in the mid-60s and picked up a silver medal at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics.

"When we qualified by beating Poland, the feeling was incredible and I know it is something that might never happen again," Weiss explained. "For somebody my age to be here is amazing, and everybody in Slovakia is excited because it is our first time. I know my dad and grandad are very proud."

Weiss's relationship with his father intrigued me and what was notable during the interview was way he repeatedly referred to him as his 'manager' rather than 'dad'. They are definitely close - they speak to each other every day even when Weiss is in England - but, just as importantly, Weiss the manager encourages the kind of football that suits Weiss the player.

Before taking charge of Slovakia, Weiss Snr made his name as coach of Artmedia - another Bratislava club. He was in charge when they smashed five goals past Gordon Strachan's Celtic in a Champions League qualifier in 2005 and has a reputation for setting his side out to play free-flowing attacking football.

Will that approach pay off in South Africa? We will find out soon enough. While Slovakia might lack household names, they definitely have some players who can do some damage. Liverpool centre-back Martin Skrtel, who has recovered from a broken foot, is probably their best-known player in the UK but Weiss feels that might change during the course of this tournament if Napoli playmaker Marek Hamsik can produce his best form.

"Marek is a good friend and a great player and there has been a lot of speculation for a while now about him going to one of the really big clubs," Weiss said. "If he plays at his best, he could be one of the stars of tournament."

It's not impossible that Weiss could take that role himself. After all, every World Cup I've watched (since Mexico '86) has seen at least one player emerge, seemingly from nowhere, to make a name for himself on the biggest stage of all.

Why not Weiss? He admits he has considered that outcome, and would certainly welcome it but I got the feeling he would be just as happy if the surprise package turns out to be the Slovakian squad as a unit, rather than any of its individuals.

"There is always one team that causes a few shocks at a World Cup and I think it will be the same this year," he explained. "Can it be us? Well, we are an attacking team but we have to play with our brains too. If we can win our first game, and get something from the next two then we have a chance. Getting out of our group will be the first achievement, if we manage that then we will see what can happen next."

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  • Comment number 1.

    Great to read something on Slovakia. Young Weiss is indeed a tremendously exciting player and has had some fine games in the national shirt, notably when shredding Johnny Evans in Belfast. I feel he should leave Man City, if only for another loan ; his mirror-image winger in the Slovakia side, Miroslav Stoch, has just had a cracking season in the Dutch league for FC Twente having had few chances with Chelsea. Weiss is as good as Stoch but needs to get himself similarly established at club level.

    I do recall reading somewhere, though, that Vladimir Senior was reluctant to pick his son for Slovakia at first, due to fear of accusations of nepotism, but that Mark Hughes persuaded him the youngster was ready. As the article states, the older Weiss's fears have proved unfounded as Vladimir Junior is now one of Slovakia's popular players.

    I do disagree with just one thing in this article. It says that Weiss Senior 'sets his sides out to play attacking, free-flowing football'. He's actually much more pragmatic than that. If he sees free-flowing football as the best way to get a result, he will demand it. Slovakia played some great stuff when beating Costa Rica last week, for example. But against better sides, they'll be much more cautious. Zdeno Strba, another almost certain member of the starting line-up, said yesterday that, against Paraguay in the second game, they know they'll be spending a lot of time in their own half and without the ball. It was the same with Artmedia. There was the 5-0 win over Celtic and a thrilling 3-2 in Porto but they could be very dour at times.

    Whatever, Vladimir Junior could well, as you suggest, be a player to enjoy in South Africa.

  • Comment number 2.

    Speaking of age, the Ghana Team has alot to offer in this World Cup. They put up an impressive 1st Half against Serbia who i think are one of this WC 2010's best and organised team. The coach should only polish-up on their final touch otherwise they doing just fine.

  • Comment number 3.

    I live in Bratislava and the place is going crazy about our first chance to compete in the World Cup Finals. The same kind of euphoria as per other western european countries with media and companies looking to exploit the names and faces of the players.

    What I've enjoyed about the last 6 months since qualification was secured, is that relatively young players like Weiss, Jendrisek, Stoch, Hamsik, and even Skrtel (just 25); have remained overly modest with their progress and success.

    Weiss Snr established himself at Artmedia, and that 2005 Champions League run was the stuff of dreams, but if anything he has improved on his club record with his international managerial career - few would have predicted Slovakia getting out of a group with at the time 4 other (higher-ranked) teams such as Czech Rep, Poland, Slovenia and N. Ireland. But he never complained, explained many times that he knew what was required, and maybe biggest of all - he got it - win against Czech republic... it was like a nation remembered their independence and while the rivalry between nations is peaceful, there is something of an unwritten rule that Czech's believe and play, like they are better than us in all sports. Weiss seems to revel in such adversity, as both at Artmedia and at international level he's carried the weight of the nation. Most importantly though, he appears to be a man who can get the most out of the sum of the parts of the team. Something what previous coaches have failed to do miserably.

    Out of the 23-man squad, Slovakia have some inexperienced talent, but there are also a number of old heads, which have been around the French, German or Turkish leagues for some time. Industrious players such as Strba, Zabavnik or Kopunek will be the heart of the team... setting up a robust defensive base, with which the flair players can use their pace and vision of Hamsik to find spaces.

    It won't be easy. Outside of the favourite 6-8 teams, there are a number of other nations, in a similar position to Slovakia, who on their day can be very handy... but can also be quite blunt at times.

    The nation is already very expectant going into the NZ match... knowing that 3pts there sets up two games, where really only a point might be enough to scrape through. An unkind draw would mean a second round encounter with the Dutch, but just to get points on the board would be a sufficient benchmark for success in this tournament, and lead to good momentum and better draw for EC qualifiers 2010-12. Weiss is looking at this generation and seeing the potential to build something big here in Slovakia. I'm very much looking forward to seeing how it works out in the coming years!

  • Comment number 4.

    Slovakia and Slovenia are probably powers to reckon with. Slovakia has done very well and the seeding is often against outsiders like Finland and Slovakia. A few years ago, maybe it was for the Euro, they had a bit of a run in with Spain I remember. They are one of the premier Ice Hockey players for certain, I believe they won the bronze at the last Winter games.

  • Comment number 5.

    I hope Weiss Jr & Bradley Jr get a chance to have a beer together during the World Cup. (Preferably a nice traditional African beer... ) Ah, Yvonne Chaka Chaka was a goddess.

    ... what was notable during the interview was way he repeatedly referred to him as his 'manager' rather than 'dad'.

    Sounds mighty sensible to me. He's got to keep those roles apart, and he's doing well - he's had to do so for a year.

    Thank you to #1 and #3 for your long comments - they really added to the article! :-)

  • Comment number 6.

    Its nice to see Slovakia being touted as a suprise package of the tournament. I have had the pleasure of watching the game in Belfast and Poland to see how the team has progressed throughout the group stages.

    One thing that has struck me about the country though is in contrary to the experiences in Bratislava. Living in the north of Slovakia in the smaller towns, it has shocked me at just how underwhelming the build up to the world cup has been, and how little interest people seem to have. You would think that being the first world cup that they would be lining up to celebrate the success of not only their nation, but the other games as well.

    I look forward to Tuesdays game, and hope that the experience turns around so we can start to feel the World cup atmosphere, as having been in Germany 4 years ago and seeing just how exciting the atmosphere can be, this is a bit of a let down..... should have got on that plane to Africa!

    Sadly I think in Slovakia, football will never get the same attention as Ice Hockey, unless of course, Weiss and Co. pull off a memorable shock. 2nd place as a minimum has to be the target for the team.

  • Comment number 7.

    Nice and well written blog. Best wishes to young Vladimir Weiss and his colleagues in the Slovakia team.

    Dr. Cajetan Coelho


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