Lionel Messi is not the only pocket-sized entertainer in the game today. Slovakia, for example, have a diminutive dribbler of their own in Miroslav Stoch. The attacking midfielder’s electrifying displays were a prominent feature of Twente’s recent Dutch Eredivisie conquest, and that has lifted his confidence as he prepares for the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™.
“He is an excellent player,” said Steve McClaren, his former coach at Twente, who has since moved on to Wolfsburg of Germany. “He’s creative, he scores goals and he’s anxious to keep on learning. He’s got a great future ahead of him.”
A staunch admirer of the player, it was McClaren who brought Stoch to Twente, luring him away from Chelsea on loan, a shrewd piece of recruitment that has worked out perfectly for both club and player.
Blue is the colour
Stoch’s increasingly productive association with the game began when his father Miroslav took him along to his hometown club of FC Nitra at the age of six. Learning his trade there, he grew in confidence and stature and made his Slovakian league debut a mere ten years later against Dubnica.
His assured performances in the months that followed that October afternoon in 2005 had Europe’s most eagle-eyed scouts monitoring his progress. Within a year Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea had won the race for his signature, with Stoch checking into the Blues’ academy to continue honing his talent. Taking up an unfamiliar wide position for the London club’s U-18 side, the Slovakian sensation chipped in with an impressive 11 goals in his first season.
Promoted to the Chelsea reserve team and the Slovakian U-21s the following year, Stoch continued to make progress until he was finally ready to take his Premier League bow. The big day came in a match against Arsenal on 30 November 2008, when Luiz Felipe Scolari sent him on for Deco.
“I know what it is to be a youngster feeling your way in the game,” said Blues team-mate Frank Lampard. “You daren’t make yourself heard above the others and when you’re on the ball you make sure you pass it rather than try to take people on. But you can see from his performances with the youth team and in training that ‘Stochy’ can make a big contribution for us.”
As well as earning more playing time for his club, Stoch was also enhancing his reputation with Slovakia. National coach Vladimir Weiss gave him his first cap in a February 2009 friendly against Ukraine, and his first international goal came in the 7-0 defeat of San Marino in a South Africa 2010 qualifying match that June.
A new challenge
As Slovakia neared their goal of reaching the FIFA World Cup, Stoch knew that to make sure of a place in the squad he would have to get more playing time under his belt. That is where McClaren and Twente came in, and the player has not looked back since.
“It’s difficult to know if I have made progress. I certainly hope that’s the case,” said the modest youngster, who will be competing for the Hyundai Best Young Player Award at South Africa 2010. “More than anything else I need to keep on improving and picking up experience.”
Stoch's Eredivisie debut came in August 2009. A month later he opened his goalscoring account in a 2-0 defeat of Heerenveen. His pace, allied to slide-rule passing and coolness in front of goal, quickly earned him a permanent place in the Twente side. Scoring ten goals in 32 appearances for the Tukkers, he made a huge contribution to their maiden league title, and replicated his club performances for his country as they reached the FIFA World Cup for the first time.
For his next trick the 20-year-old is aiming to inspire Slovakia to the top of Group F, where they will cross swords with Italy, New Zealand and Paraguay. A tall order that may be but, as he showed yet again by creating his side’s opener in the 1-1 draw with Cameroon last week, the sure-footed Stoch would be an asset to any side.
Following the Slovakian tradition, Miroslav Stoch has the same first name as his father, as does his Slovakia team-mate Vladimir Weiss, the son of the national coach and the grandson of a former Czechosolvakia international.
Stoch made his league debut just two weeks after turning 16, the minimum age for turning professional in Slovakia.
Stoch was on the verge of signing for French club Nice when Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea came in for him.
A devotee of Brazil’s Ronaldo, Stoch also lists Ronaldinho and Cristiano Ronaldo among his footballing role models.