STOCKHOLM, June 17 ― Slovakia, led by captain Marek Hamsik, are set to take on Sweden at Euro 2020 tomorrow, a country that became the star midfielder's home for several months this year.
Hamsik joined IFK Gothenburg from Dalian Pro in China in March in a bid to get ready for the Euro.
The 33-year-old playmaker with a distinctive mohawk hairstyle had already surprised fans and pundits alike when he left Napoli for China in 2019 after 12 years at the club.
Hamsik joined Dalian on a two-year deal but ended his stay as the Covid-19 pandemic complicated travel to and from China, and was also keen to bridge the long winter break.
He pulled another shock move when he signed with Gothenburg, a club whose trophies have long been covered with dust with their last Swedish title dating from 2007.
“I only had two possibilities to play in summer before the Euro: at home with Slovan Bratislava or with IFK,” Hamsik said shortly after the signing in March.
“Of course my first option was to play at home but Slovan didn't conclude and IFK was very fast, very serious and I'm happy to stay here,” he added.
His arrival made a splash in Allsvenskan, the Swedish league, which lost much of its glory in the wake of the Bosman ruling.
Talented young Swedish players tend to leave the country for England or the Netherlands, like for instance Zlatan Ibrahimovic in 2001.
Transfer to Turkey
Hamsik, who has scored 26 goals in 127 games for Slovakia and over 100 goals for Napoli in Serie A, had nothing but praise for the Swedish top flight, where many teams play on artificial grass.
“The Swedish league is full of combat, it is very physical, demanding and quick, quite different from than I've experienced so far in my career,” he said on his website.
None of his IFK teammates are playing at the Euro, although 34-year-old Swedish striker Marcus Berg will return to the club after the tournament from Russia's Krasnodar.
But the two are not facing a shared future ― last week, Hamsik announced a move to Trabzonspor in Turkey on July 1.
His contract with IFK, valid until August 31, said he could quit any time if another club shows interest.
'A true professional'
“Marek brought us a lot during his stay with us ― to the team, to the club as a whole and to the city of Gothenburg,” said IFK sports director Pontus Farnerud.
“He is a true professional in all respects and it was exciting to work with him so closely,” added the former Monaco and Sporting Lisbon midfielder.
In his six games for IFK, Hamsik managed a single goal, but it was a beauty ― his blast from outside the box was deflected into the top corner as Gothenburg drew 2-2 with Sirius on May 18.
IFK won the Uefa Cup in 1982 and 1987, but they have lately embarked on a dry spell, finishing 12th among 16 teams in the 2020 season.
The team is currently 10th in the Allsvenskan and their mediocre performances cost coach Roland Nilsson his job.
If there is a source of pride for IFK, it is the fans, but Hamsik will not hear them sing their chant honouring Poseidon, quite naturally in this port city.
Coronavirus restrictions in Sweden ban the presence of fans in the stands until June 1, and the league will only resume in July. ― AFP