16 July ~ Football fans and sports journalists in Slovakia often accuse the country's football association, Slovensky Futbalovy Zvaz (SFZ), of incompetence. At times, such accusations seem justifiable. SFZ were only able to confirm on Thursday that the new Slovak league season will start on time this weekend. The clubs, led by their union (ULK), had been threatening to strike over money owed to them by the governing body from last season's sale of TV rights and sponsorship deals. "Will we ever have an association that acts professionally and solves problems well in advance?" asked a weary editorial in yesterday's Sport.
The explanation offered by the SFZ for not resolving disagreements with the clubs earlier was their preoccupation with matters surrounding the Slovak national team's participation in the World Cup. Coach Vladimir Weiss will have allowed himself a wry smile at that since SFZ cock-ups formed an interesting sub-plot to the team's efforts in South Africa. Firstly, there was the team hotel, spoken of with pride by the SFZ after they booked it but which was more like a Butlins complex than the kind of facility international footballers are used to. "It isn't what we were expecting," muttered the normally taciturn Martin Skrtel.
After defeat to Holland in the last 16, the SFZ were unable to book the whole team and staff on the same flight home, meaning that Weiss and nine of his players arrived on one plane followed, a day later, by the rest of the party. Finally, a welcoming reception for the team in Bratislava was not properly publicised so that, as the players emerged to wave from a city centre balcony, only a pathetically small crowd was gathered below to wave back.
Yet the SFZ have acted with rare speed and effectiveness in persuading Weiss, just two weeks after the Holland game, to sign a new four-year contract. Naturally, the deal is in the association's own interest. As its president, Frantisek Laurinec, acknowledged, "working with him is not always simple but there is only one Vladimir Weiss". He might have added that Weiss, the third lowest-paid coach at the World Cup, is also good value for money.
Any new inducements offered by the SFZ would not, by themselves, have convinced Weiss to stay. Most important to him is the prospect of continuing to work with the Slovakia squad and improving it. Intriguingly, he has pledged to help fast-track a citizenship application for Slovan Bratislava's Togo-born midfielder Karim Guede. Rated by several Slovak league opponents as physically the strongest player they've ever faced, Guede is a candidate for a midfield holding role in the national team when Miroslav Karhan and Zdeno Strba (aged 35 and 34 respectively) finally retire.
The SFZ will be happy they've secured their coach, especially with tricky Euro 2012 qualifiers coming up in September. If they can resolve other issues with the efficiency they displayed in sorting out his contract, Weiss, as well as Slovak fans and the media, will have little to complain about. James Baxter