2 February ~ It would be understandable if Vladimir Weiss, who quit his job as coach of Slovakia this week "by mutual consent", reflected that he had become a victim of his own standards. Three and a half years ago Weiss took on a team that had become a target of ridicule after losing a Euro 2008 qualifier 5-2 at home to Wales. He proceeded to guide them to the top of their World Cup qualification group, earning a rare win over neighbours the Czech Republic in the process. In South Africa, a thrilling victory over the World Cup holders Italy sent the Slovaks through to the last 16.
These achievements were all the more remarkable given that Weiss was not working with a "golden generation". With the exceptions of Martin Skrtel and Marek Hamsik, his players did not hold down places with clubs in the biggest leagues. Most were itinerant types, used to travelling the length and breadth of Europe in search of regular first-team action. But they were moulded skilfully into a collective that, through discipline, organisation and the odd dose of luck, learned how to defeat more talented opponents.
With the World Cup over, expectations in Slovakia grew, especially as the team’s Euro 2012 qualifying group looked manageable. But early wins over Macedonia and away to Russia proved deceptive as the side laboured painfully through the following eight matches, beating only Andorra. The longer the campaign went on, the more negative Weiss’s tactics seemed to become. Ultimately, a fourth-place finish was as inevitable as it was deflating.
Given his earlier successes, there is a sense that Weiss could have survived this disappointment. The real reasons for his departure do not lie in results alone. His relationship with Slovakia's governing body had been problematic since his appointment. The association was prepared to put up with the coach’s frequent public criticisms while results were good, but they were less indulgent when the team stopped winning.
It has also been said that Weiss had favourites within his squad, notably Hamsik, who underperformed through much of the last qualifying campaign, and error-prone centre-back Jan Durica. In contrast, he was curiously dismissive of the international claims of players such as Marian Cisovsky and Marek Bakos, two Slovaks who have figured prominently in Viktoria Plzen’s recent Czech league and European successes.
Weiss's determination to combine his national team role with a club post was also unpopular. When he took over as coach at Slovak champions Slovan Bratislava last summer, there was an obvious danger of a conflict of interest. His tendency to cause embarrassment by losing his temper with journalists did not help. A Slovak reporter was physically threatened for questioning the side’s tactics after defeat to Paraguay at the World Cup. Another was abused following the home defeat to Russia last October.
For all his flaws, Weiss has been easily the most successful coach of independent Slovakia. Judging by reactions to his departure, players and fellow coaches seem to think he deserved at least a shot at qualification for the 2014 World Cup. The standards he set during his first two years in charge have proved hard for him to maintain. They will be equally difficult to live up to for whoever is appointed as his successor. James Baxter