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Who is Slovakia's new manager Stefan Tarkovic? Getting to know the man tasked with taking down Northern Ireland

Tarkovic steps into biggest role yet after playing career cut short


In charge: Stefan Tarkovic has stepped up to manage Slovakia after previously being assistant

In charge: Stefan Tarkovic has stepped up to manage Slovakia after previously being assistant

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In charge: Stefan Tarkovic has stepped up to manage Slovakia after previously being assistant

Stefan Tarkovic is the man parachuted in to guide Slovakia to the Euro 2020 finals at the expense of Northern Ireland.

If Ian Baraclough taking over from Michael O'Neill ahead of international football resuming, following an enforced break due to Covid-19, was a big step for the Irish FA, what has happened in the corridors of power in Slovakian football recently has been extraordinary.

Last month Pavel Hapal was in charge of Slovakia when they defeated the Republic of Ireland in a penalty shoot-out in the semi-finals of the play-offs, but after some disappointing results in the Nations League he was ditched and in came Tarkovic, previously part of the coaching team under Jan Kozak, who led Slovakia to Euro 2016.

Tarkovic is well respected as a coach in Slovakia but, even so, it is still considered a risk to appoint him ahead of such a massive match for his country.

His story is just as intriguing as the situation he finds himself in right now.

"When I was 24 I was seriously injured. That's why I couldn't develop my playing career that much. I was somewhere on the level of a professional player of the first or second league," explained Tarkovic in an interview with Slovakian outlet SME Sport.

"Since my talent was very limited from my health potential, I decided to go on a coaching journey.

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"When I came to Bratislava in 1992 to study and play football at the same time, I already knew then that coaching at the University would be the basis of what I want to do in the future.

"I knew that if I did not pay enough attention to the study, I would not achieve many of my goals."

In the past, Slovakia have tended to opt for managers who have enjoyed strong playing careers. Not this time.

"Every progressive trainer should be able to analyse in terms of their strengths and weaknesses," says Tarkovic.

"There are many cases in the world today that even a person without a rich playing career can be successful as a coach. And the opposite is also true - a successful player does not automatically have to be a quality coach.

"I admit, my handicap is that I have not had a rich playing career. So I don't see the situation as the coaches who have had many national team matches behind them.

"On the other hand, I am assertive enough and I often communicate with players so that I can understand them correctly. I think that I can understand the actions of players objectively, either on the field or off it."

Tarkovic learned much from the successful Kozak.

"It was a long, successful and especially productive co-operation. We experienced up to 54 matches together, of which we won 29 and drew 10, and we advanced to the European Championships in France," he says.

"The basis was mutual respect between the players and the entire implementation team. A very nice and especially motivating atmosphere was created, to which the players liked to return. In addition, we have always been able to solve the problems that have arisen.

"For me personally, Ján Kozák is first and foremost a human being. He has a very good professional eye for football, perfect coaching, he can solve things very effectively. I learned a lot from him, for which I am grateful. We understood each other. We knew exactly who was responsible for what."

Kozak had wanted Tarkovic to take over from him when he left in 2018. Two years later that wish has come true.

"When you work with someone and they mark you as their successor, you can only perceive it positively," said the current boss.

"We both felt good about it, the trust was mutual. Then what happened happened, but I don't want to go back in time.''

Tarkovic is forward thinking, but Northern Ireland will hope that he doesn't move on to next year's finals having delivered a big victory for Slovakia just a few weeks after taking the helm.

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