Stoch: Fener have to win titles
He is brimming with talent, stands 1.69m tall and could be in line for a prestigious prize at the 2012 FIFA Ballon d’Or gala – but no, Lionel Messi is not the man under this particular spotlight.
Among the other players looking forward to the Zurich showcase is Fenerbahce's two-footed winger Miroslav Stoch, whose extraordinary goal against Genclerbirligi on 3 March this year has earned him a place on the shortlist for the FIFA Puskás Award. Given his insatiable thirst for titles, expect the Slovakian international to be keeping his fingers firmly crossed that he can add another honour to his collection.
Nicknamed Miňo, Stoch has never gone through an entire season without winning at least something. He kicked off his career at Chelsea in 2008/09, lifting the 2009 FA Cup, and then helped Twente clinch the Dutch championship title in 2009/10, before taking the Turkish crown with Fenerbahce the following season and adding the Turkish Cup this year. Unsurprisingly, he has no intention of ending his run there.
"We're fighting for first place in the league, we've started well in the Europa League and we're still involved in the Turkish Cup," he explained to FIFA.com. "This season isn't going badly at all, but it's going to be long and there's still a lot of games to play. Fenerbahce are a big club, perhaps the biggest in Turkey, and for that reason alone we have to win titles."
Stoch's hunger for success has been evident since the start. His introduction to the game came at FC Nitra in his native Slovakia, but he was packing his bags at just 15 years of age as he left to join Chelsea's training academy in England. At the time, the Blues had just won the Premier League title under Jose Mourinho, but it was during Luiz Felipe Scolari's reign that the youngster made his first-team debut, coming on as a substitute for Deco against Arsenal in November 2008.
"I have only wonderful memories of that club," he said. "I arrived when I was just 15, and not speaking a word of English. I'd hardly ever even beyond the borders of my own country, so it was a completely new experience for me. I learnt an enormous amount over there and I'll always be in debt to that club." Above all, of course, it was during his short stay at Stamford Bridge that he won his first cap for Slovakia, in February 2009.
Stoch's career was about to take off, and he took another major step when he was loaned to Twente that summer. Sent to the Netherlands in order to toughen himself up for Chelsea, the winger quickly became one of Twente's key performers.
"I agreed with Chelsea to the idea of a loan, without knowing exactly where I'd be going at first," he recalled. "In the end, it was Twente and there's no doubt that that was the right choice. It was a fantastic season. We won the title for the first time in the club's history and I think I played some good football on a personal level too."
Overall, he struck ten goals in 32 outings, with perhaps his most important effort coming in the win against Breda that guaranteed Twente their title breakthrough. Soon afterwards, the winger was then on his way to the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™, where Slovakia reached the Round of 16 in their historic maiden appearance on the global stage.
"Naturally, that's engraved in my memory," he said. "It was the first time that Slovakia had qualified for a major international tournament, and it stirred up a lot of enthusiasm back home. Nobody expected us to beat Italy, but we managed to defeat them and qualify for the second round. I really hope I'm able to experience another World Cup."
Their hopes of reaching Brazil 2014 rest on success in Group G, which, for Stoch, "may look straightforward but is a lot more difficult than it seems". Indeed, with four matches gone, Slovakia lie third behind joint leaders Greece and Bosnia-Herzegovina.
"We could have started better. Everything was going well until our last game against Greece, which we lost at home due to bad luck. Nothing is lost yet, however. We can beat any team, so we'll wait and see where we finish up at the end."
With qualification resuming next year, the immediate priority for Stoch is the Turkish league – and the FIFA Puskás Award. "I would be delighted and very honoured to win the Puskás Award, but team success has always been more important for me," he said. "If I had to choose, I'd prefer to win the championship, especially since we only just missed out on the title last season."
As it was, Galatasaray took the title garlands thanks to a goalless draw in Fener's backyard, and the two great rivals find themselves locked in a tight tussle again this term. Just two points separate them, in fact, ahead of what is sure to be a crucial meeting between the sides this Sunday.