Slovakia captain Martin Skrtel’s ups and downs

Bratislava (AFP) – When Slovakia beat Luxembourg last October to clinch qualification for their first-ever European Championship finals, captain Martin Skrtel made a very special TV appearance, gatecrashing the Slovak coach’s interview with a local channel.

“Slovakia, Slovakia,” he yelled at the camera, jumping wildly, stripped to the waist, displaying his tattoo slogan “Veni, Vidi, Vici” (I came, I saw, I conquered), before snatching the interviewer’s microphone to do more shouting.

The 31-year-old Liverpool centre-back is no stranger to wild acts, on and off the pitch, but he has so far done a good job balancing his eccentricities with his skills.

“He is an experienced player who has been playing regularly in a great team,” said Slovakia coach Jan Kozak.

“I’m happy to have him in the national team.”

Skrtel sparked uproar last year when he stamped on Manchester United goalkeeper David De Gea, earning a three-game ban to which he quickly responded by posting a picture of laughing clowns on his Instagram account.

In the national team, he clashed with Diego Costa of Spain during his country’s surprise 2-1 victory in a Euro 2016 qualifier in Bratislava in October 2014.

Skrtel later admitted having used Spanish expletives he had learnt from one-time Liverpool teammate Luis Suarez.

A month later he and Costa clashed again when Chelsea played at Anfield.

Born on December 15, 1984 in the central Slovak town of Handlova, the shaven-headed 193-centimetre-tall (6ft 4in) Skrtel started his professional career with Trencin in 2002.

In 2004, the four-time Slovak footballer of the year moved to Zenit St Petersburg where he stayed until signing for Liverpool in 2008.   

He played all four games for Slovakia at the 2010 World Cup without missing a minute.

– Future in doubt –

In 2010/11, he did not miss a single minute in league games for the Reds, and a year later he was voted Liverpool’s player of the season by fans on their official website.

The Slovakia skipper, capped 81 times, signed a three-year contract at Anfield in mid-2015, but fortune has since turned against him and his future at Liverpool could be in doubt under Jurgen Klopp.

A hamstring injury sidelined Skrtel for 13 weeks, and his return in March did not work out well.

Skrtel came onto the pitch in Southampton at half-time as the Reds were 2-0 up.

He gave away a penalty which the Saints missed, but he could not stop them from scoring three goals in 22 minutes of the second half that handed them the win.

“Martin Skrtel’s Southampton horror show proves need for change this summer,” Liverpool website urged after the humbling defeat.

“This is a centre-back who is: uncomfortable operating in a front-footed, high line; easily bullied in the air; unable to propel attacking moves with progressive passing play; and, for a Premier League veteran, a muted vocal presence,” it added.

British media have increasingly reported that Skrtel will be for sale this summer.

But Kozak was quick to dismiss the criticism.

“It’s not a single player but the team that wins or loses,” he said, calling Skrtel up for March friendlies against Latvia and Ireland.

Skrtel, who has a son with his wife Barbara, believes in a saying: “You can fall and be defeated a hundred times, but you will stand up a hundred times and walk on.”

Euro 2016 might be a good opportunity to do just that.

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