Monday, 28 December 2009

The Three Young Hopes of Slovakia - Prequel - Peter Dubovský

The rise of Peter Dubovský on the Czechoslovak football scene in the first half of the 1990s was rapid and stayed unmatched for nearly two decades. Aged 19, he earned his first cap for Czechoslovakia right after the 1990 World Cup; aged 20, he won the Czechoslovak Golden Boot, having scored 27 goals in a single season for Slovan Bratislava - and 24 the following season; aged 22, he became the first ever "Slovakian Player of the Year".

[1993 Slovakian player of the year - aged 22]

In September 1991 Dubovský scored Slovan's only goal against Real Madrid [1:2] in a UEFA Cup fixture. Following Peter's performances in the Czechoslovak league, his transfer became imminent. Two major teams sent away their offers to Tehelné pole, home of ŠK Slovan Bratislava and their young star. Ajax Amsterdam and Real Madrid were keen on signing the player, and in 1993 Dubovský was sold to the latter for a record transfer fee, a move that was to have a profound influence on his future career, a move that many have regretted.


Peter played a decent amount of games [25] in his first season in Real Madrid. After Benito Floro Sanz's dismissal in 1994, "Dubák" struggled to keep his place in Real's XI under Jorge Valdano [the current Director General of Real Madrid]. He was sold to Real Oviedo and kept earning caps for Slovakia at international level. Although he remained a decent player [this goal is perfect], his career throughout the second half of the 1990s was not as shiny as in his early 20s - and remarkably short-lived. His rapid rise was followed by a dramatic fall, as Peter Dubovský, aged 28, died in a tragic accident on June 23 2000 after slipping off a wet cliff in Ko Samui, Thailand.

"Friend or foe?"
[Real Oviedo v. Real Madrid - Dubovský on the left]

Many unanswered questions remain. What if Dubovský played in Slovakia's friendly against Japan instead of going on holiday to Thailand? What if young "Dubák" turned Real Madrid down and accepted an offer from Louis van Gaal's Ajax Amsterdam, legendary for nurturing excellent young football talent? And, most importantly, would Slovakia ever find another Peter Dubovský?

Tribute to "Dubák" by Slovan's fans - "We won't forget!"
[by "Papa Noe" @]

These questions are driven by numerous memories among Slovak [as well as Czech] fans. Peter's performances from the early 1990s cannot be easily forgotten, whether his game winning goal in the derby against Slavia Praha  in the 1992/93 season, which secured Slovan's the last-ever "federal" title, or the remarkable hat-trick against Romania.
I remember back in the early Nineties, we (Czechoslovakia) were playing a Romanian team who were at their peak after a good World Cup,” Moravcik [former Celtic winger] said. “They came to Kosice expecting to win. But they forgot about Dubovsky. That day, Peter scored the best hat-trick that I ever saw. He was the difference between the two sides. The match was level at two each and then Peter scored his three goals. It was a really important hat-trick considering that we had already had two players sent off. Dubovsky made Hagi and Co look ordinary that evening. How often did that happen?
Classy strike by Peter for Real Oviedo

Throughout the 2000s, the three questions kept reappearing on a regular basis. Slovakia clearly missed Dubovský, who was able to make all the difference on the pitch and pull the rest of the team along. An award for the best U-21 footballer, bearing Dubovský's name, was created as the search for another player of similar qualities commenced and memories of his tragic death remained fresh and painful. Many of the award's winners were unable to copy Peter's brilliance and proved to be major disappointments [e.g. Ľubomír Meszároš or Roland Števko]. Other promising players [e.g. Szilárd Németh] ran out of steam following transfers to clubs that were probably too big for their shoes. Towards the end of this decade, however, three major young players emerged - Marek Hamšík, Miroslav Stoch, and Vladimír Weiss Jr. Each of them contains, in one way or another, a bit of Peter Dubovský, and each of them has many lessons to learn from his short but dramatic football career. The upcoming articles in "The Three Young Hopes of Slovakia" series will be dedicated to them...
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