Tuesday, 26 January 2010

The Three Young Hopes of Slovakia - Part 3 - Vladimír "Vladko" Weiss

The inclusion of Vladimír "Vladko" Weiss alongside Peter Dubovský, Marek Hamšík and Miroslav Stoch might seem controversial. While the latter two players feature prominently in their respective team's starting XI, Weiss spent the first half of the current season on Manchester City's bench, getting more playtime for Slovakia than for his club. His current predicament runs in a perfect parallel with that of Stoch a season ago - a promising graduate of his club's youth academy who suddenly finds himself in a squad filled with some of the most expensive football players of the EPL and beyond. Even the club's strategic thinking is similar - both Chelsea and Man City have used Stoch and Weiss as proofs of their vision for the future player policy, based not only on record transfers, but also on youth academies. With Weiss loaned out to Bolton less than a week ago and expected to feature in tonight's game against Burnley, the time is right for looking at Weiss's past, present and short-term future.

Two thirds of the Weiss football clan.

Standing On The Shoulders Of Giants
Father-son duos in football are not uncommon - there are the Maldinis [Cesare + Paolo], the Schmeichels [Peter + Kasper], the Redknapps [ye-es - Harry + Jamie] - and the list goes on. Can you name a grandfather-father-son trio? Yes, you might wikipedia [is that a verb?] Diego Forlán and read that his father Pablo "was also a Uruguyan international", playing for his country at the 1966 and 1974 World Cup. You may also read that his [maternal] grandfather Juan Carlos Corazo "played for Independiente in Argentina". But can you name a player whose father's father played at a major tournament? The Weiss family is, in this sense, unique. Vladimír Weiss the Eldest played as a centre-back, faced the likes of Pelé, Jairzinho and Vavá, has a silver medal from the 1964 Summer Olympics Football Tournament and is infamous for missing a crucial penalty in the 1966 World Cup qualifier against Portugal - the match was played at muddy Tehelné Pole and Czechoslovakia's failure to get three points meant that the silver medalist from the 1962 World Cup was not to compete in England. Vladimír Weiss Senior played as a midfielder and saw action for Czechoslovakia at the 1990 World Cup. He stayed on in the world of football and coached Artmedia Petržalka, one of two teams [along with Liverpool] ever to make it to the Champions League group stages from first qualifying round. Artmedia famously beat Celtic Glasgow in the second qualifying round [5:0], giving an unpleasant debut to Gordon Strachan, Celtic's recently appointed manager. Although Artmedia's annual budget was just around £1m, it fared extremely well in the group stages - its two games against FC Porto are legendary. Weiss's team was 0:2 down - only to beat the home side 3:2. Artmedia's second [home] fixture against FC Porto was played on one of the worst pitches ever seen in the history of the Champions League - it had rained for nearly a week before the kick-off, yet the game still went ahead. The club's goalless draw confined it to the third spot, after German Markus Merk deprived the Slovak side of two legitimate penalties [quoting O Jogo, Portuguese football portal]. Weiss's greatest moment was to arrive fours years later - it was under his management that Slovakia's long wait [7560 minutes] was finally over and the country qualified for the 2010 World Cup in South Africa. A photograph of Weiss's tears of happiness was more telling than all the editorials that flooded Slovak dailies the following morning... Vladimír "Vladko" [= diminutive of his first name] Weiss started, just as his father and grandfather, his career in Inter Bratislava, only to be snapped up by Man City as he turned 16.


Manchester, England, England
Weiss found himself in a highly gifted Man City youth team, which also featured the likes of Daniel Sturridge and Dedryck Boyata and won the the 2007/08 FA Youth Cup, beating Gael Kakuta, Miroslav Stoch & Co. Weiss played a prominent role in the two-legged final against Chelsea, storming towards Chelsea's box after getting past several Chelsea players and providing Sturridge with a pass to Man City's only goal at Stamford Bridge [1:1]. Weiss scored Man City's game-winning goal in the second leg from a superb free kick. Weiss then won a penalty, which was  converted by David Ball, effectively sealing Man City's triumph. Weiss earned a considerable amount of praise for his performance - The Daily Telegraph spoke of Man City, "the changing face of football ... thanks to the eye-catching talents of a Slovakian winger ... Vladimir Weiss, whose wing play has already earned local comparisons with Cristiano Ronaldo, [who] proved the difference for City's academy players" [see the entire article here].

Debut v. Bolton

Weiss received his debut for Man City against his current employer Bolton in May 2008, replacing Stephen Ireland in the 71st minute of the game [1:0]. It was his only game of the season, but proved his qualities in a friendly against FC Barcelona. Weiss was praised for his performance by Man City's manager Mark Hughes - "Barcelona have great depth, great young talent, but I thought Vladimir Weiss was the best young player out there tonight," he said. Despite this praise, Weiss found himself in a marginal position over the past three to four months. Man City got off to an unconvincing start of the 2009/10 season, despite Hughes's record-breaking shopping spree over the summer. City's line of draws was seemingly never-ending and Hughes found himself under more and more pressure. Weiss featured in just three Cup games, always coming on as a substitute. Weiss played well in a Carling Cup match against Scunthorpe United [28/10 5:1], crossing to an unmarked Carlos Tevez [5:32] to make it 4:1 and coming close to scoring a goal or two minutes later. He scored his only goal for Man City against Arsenal's youngsters [02/12, 3:0, Carling Cup], after a great run & pass by Craig Bellamy. The two players hugged themselves while celebrating, only to be diagnosed with swine flu a week later. The club extended Weiss's contract a week after his recovery, with Mark Hughes praising his improvement - “Vladi has come on leaps and bounds in the last four months and is fast maturing as a player", he claimed. It was quite possibly one of the last decisions that Hughes took as City's manager - he was sacked 24 hours later and replaced by Roberto Mancini. Weiss found himself in Mancini's starting XI against Middlesbrough [03/01, 1:0], but did not have the best of games and was substituted after a rather disappointing performance. Mancini recognized his talent ["Vladimir has shown what he can do in a couple of substitute appearances"], yet two weeks later conceded that the young Slovakian might go on loan ["He is a good young player who is going to be important to this club in the future. But he needs to play. We have not decided where though. That will be Vladimir's choice."]. Weiss decided to go on loan, refusing offers from 1. FC Cologne and Hull City, joining Owen Coyle's Bolton.

Weiss's only City goal

Bolton and beyond
Weiss, who turned 20 just a couple of months ago, has most of his career before him. It is questionable to what extent had his three months on Man City's bench a positive or negative impact - the bottom line is that Weiss, just as every young player, needs to gain match experience. Owen Coyle seems to be excited about Weiss's move - "He's a young player and an exciting player ... a very positive player who likes to get at full-backs, who likes to get crosses in and shots in ...  the type of player that I want at the football club - one that excites the fans. I also believe there is an edge to his game and a quality that will help the ones we already have." Are these just plain words? The matter-of-fact is that Bolton's Lee Chung-Yong is having an amazing season - not only does he play on the right wing, like Weiss, but he is only a year older and has a permanent deal with the Wanderers - Coyle has a clear interest in nourishing his talent. What will he do? Move Lee to the left hand side of the pitch and start Weiss on the right? Or vice versa? Or will Weiss become Lee's substitute? As things stand at the moment [5 minutes till Bolton v. Burnley], the last option seems most likely - at least for now. If Weiss is to shine in South Africa, as Jeffrey Marcus from New York Times speculates, he has to play on a regular basis. His Bolton loan is a make or break moment - either he will prove his talent, displayed in Man City's Youth Academy, or he will become yet another player that "hasn't made it".

 Weiss in Northern Ireland v. Slovakia [0:2]

Weiss the Player
Weiss has his qualities - the manner in which he got past Man Utd's Jonny Evans and crossed the ball to Stanislav Šesták is undoubtedly one of the classiest moment of Slovakia's World Cup qualification - he is a player with great dribbling skills and good crossing abilities. He does, however, lack consistency, as shown by his display against Middlesbrough or some games for Slovakia. He might be a "twinkle-toed youngster", but too often forgets to pass on the ball and/or does that unnecessary extra step-over, which costs him the ball - something that he is criticized for not only by Slovak fans, but also his father [Slovakia's coach]. Weiss is only a month younger than Twente's Stoch, but still has some way to go to catch up with his countryman - the importance of his next five months with Bolton cannot be emphasized enough.
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