||ESPNsoccernet: Euro 2012
Tuesday, April 12, 2011
ESPNsoccernet: April 13, 8:48 AM UK
Weiss' Weiss' baby
The ink had barely dried on the letter of resignation written by the Communist Czechoslovak government in Prague, helping bring to an end a system that had ruled Central and Eastern Europe for half-a-century, when down the road in Bratislava, a footballing dynasty that would bridge the two eras was being perpetuated. Three players by the name of Vladimir Weiss have represented either Czechoslovakia or Slovakia at international level and the last in line, born in that tumultuous, tremendous late November of the Velvet Revolution of 1989, could well turn out to be the best so far.
While the grandpa won a silver medal in the 1964 Olympic football tournament, the father was in the Czechoslovakia squad at Italia '90 as a player before taking Slovakia to their first-ever major tournament - last summer's World Cup - as a coach. The son looks likely to surpass his namesakes' achievements, on the pitch at least. Having lit up three of his nation's four matches in South Africa with his twinkle-toed attacking play, the youngest Weiss experienced the Champions League on loan at Rangers this season and teed up the winning goal against Celtic in the Scottish League Cup final last month before a foot fracture laid him low.
"Dad could have moved abroad too as the [political] changes happened when he was at his peak, but he then suffered a cruciate ligament injury which ended his career," Weiss said, with his own life story, unfettered by the geo-political constraints of the Cold War, taking him to Manchester City at 15. "The career that he could have had as a player he's now having as a manager. He's still a young coach, and he's doing really well."
His son is a major part of that success, already a mainstay of the Slovak national side and part of an up-and-coming generation that includes Napoli's Marek Hamsik, Fenerbahce's former Chelsea attacking midfielder Miroslav Stoch, and Genoa's promising defensive midfielder Juraj Kucka. Weiss has benefitted from his father's faith in Slovakia's youthful talents, but as Nigel Clough will no doubt attest, being the son of the man who puts the names on the teamsheet can be difficult.
"It's great to have him around. Obviously my dad is a great help - we speak two or three times a day about football, about my game," Weiss said. He made his senior international bow in August 2009, a year after his father took charge of the national side, and adds: "But it's not easy to play for your dad - for him or for me."
If they did not already know, both men found that out in South Africa. After arguably being Slovakia's best player in their opening two group-stage games, Weiss was omitted from the side that secured Slovakia's greatest victory to date, beating Italy 3-2 in Johannesburg. "We'd had two games, and I thought that I played well in them. I mean he was professional about it, he didn't tell me beforehand. We just had a team meeting, he put the team up and I wasn't in it."
The tone in Weiss' voice - that of a maturity that belies his youth - is evidence enough the son accepted that dad was only doing his job. A warm touchline embrace between the pair seconds after the final whistle sounded at Ellis Park showed the professional relationship the two have built can blur with the paternal, and that fuzzy distinction is obvious as Weiss defends his dad the coach, lambasted by the Slovak press with whom Weiss Snr enjoys - or perhaps that should be 'endures' - a je t'aime, moi non plus relationship.
"The press were just ridiculous," Weiss said. His rancour clearly lingers, and has led him to no longer give interviews to his country's football press. "After our first two games, we were criticised, there were jokes about us in the papers. And then after we beat Italy, we were heroes for the whole country. But I'm glad that it happened - people showed their true faces. Now we know what to expect."
It was all part of the steep learning curve that has only got steeper since South Africa. The Slovak squad's surprise progress to the second round, where their adventure came to an end at the feet of the Dutch, has increased expectations on a side that only the finest connoisseurs of the game were familiar with before Kamil Kopunek lobbed Federico Marchetti and sent the then-world champions home. The Euro 2012 qualifying draw was not kind, with Russia and Ireland in a testing Group B that also includes potential banana skins in Armenia and Macedonia. Indeed, Slovakia slipped up in Yerevan, losing 3-1 in a game that saw Weiss score his first international goal but undid much of the benefit of having beaten Russia in Moscow.
"We've got a good team that could play together at four World Cups," Weiss said. "We had a great result in Russia, but Armenia just had a quality team, played some quality football."
Slovakia sneaked past Andorra 1-0 in their last qualifier to move atop the group. It was an unconvincing result that followed a 2-1 defeat in a fog-bound friendly in Luxembourg, another demonstration that there really are no easy games in international football these days. "I think we're still in a good position, and we've had some good results. People tried to make excuses for the game in Luxembourg - it was foggy and all that - but it was the same for both teams ... I don't really have an explanation. Since my dad took over as the national coach, he's got a horrible record in friendlies. He tries a few things, and it's sometimes difficult for us to get motivated for matches like that."
Surprise defeats to Europe's footballing minnows aside, things are going rather swimmingly for Weiss Jnr. Having turned 21 only last November, the attacking midfielder's world is his oyster. He moved to England six years ago, and you would scarcely believe he could not speak a word of English as he recounts the tale of his arrival at Manchester City from Inter Bratislava with an accent Liam Gallagher would be proud of. He reveals that his twang could have been more EastEnders than Eastlands, though, had the fates and Weiss' own admirable scruples not dictated otherwise.
"I was playing for Inter and there was a tournament in Belfast. City wanted me to sign straight away, and Arsenal wanted me to play a friendly for them. But I'd broken my foot in my last match with Inter. City wanted me to sign anyway, and I couldn't really ask them to wait a month while it healed," Weiss said.
"We had a lot of good young players coming through. I made my debut when Robinho was there. It was a great achievement for me to do that."
Loan moves to Bolton and now Rangers have followed, and with two years left on his City contract, Weiss' future remains bright but as yet unfocused, at least geographically. "It's been great at Rangers. The Scottish game is physical. People say that the level isn't as good, but it's been a great experience for me, something new. I've won a trophy here and we still have a great chance to win the league," Weiss said. He rejected the opportunity to join Celtic last summer, and recounts with amusement being either regularly flattered or told to 'F*ck off!' on the streets of Glasgow. "I just don't know what's going to happen next summer. I've been at three massive clubs already. If City want to keep me, then I'll be more than pleased. [But] I just don't want to sit on the bench again."
A return to Manchester would not guarantee first-team football but, regardless of where his future lies, the son will undoubtedly continue to play a key role under his father, who recently signed a contract extension to 2014, to help bring Slovakia out of the shadow of their Czech cousins, 18 years after their Velvet Divorce.
The exploits of Nedved, Smicer, Poborsky and co at Euro 96, as well as the odd drop of Budvar and the unrivalled stag-do delights of Prague, gave Czech Republic a headstart in the publicity stakes after Czechoslovakia split, leaving Slovaks often branded 'Czechs' or 'Czechoslovaks' almost everywhere they go in Western Europe to this day. It seems even Rangers fans do not know the difference. "There were these flags, 'Weiss, Weiss, Baby!' with my face on and the Czech flag. They were selling them and everything," Weiss chuckled, having also been asked during a Twitter chat with his 'followers' which team would win a game between Scotland and Slovenia. "I don't know mate, I'm Slovak," came the reply. It is an error Weiss may not have to keep correcting for much longer.