Success did not come instantly when former AFC Ajax and Netherlands winger Tschen La Ling took control of FK AS Trenčín – but as they prepare to face IFK Göteborg in the UEFA Europa League second qualifying round, the Slovak club are sticking to their principles.
Now 57, La Ling played for Ajax from 1975–82 and was capped 14 times by his country, but he had not had much involvement in the game since hanging up his boots in 1987. However, having fallen in love with Slovakia on a working visit, he decided to buy a controlling stake in Trenčin in 2007. "I was working on some development projects in Slovakia," explained the former ADO Den Haag, Feyenoord, Panathinaikos FC and Olympique de Marseille man. "I got to know a bit about the country, the people and their quality, so I decided to have a go."
Yet, after pledging that his new team would be playing European football inside three years, La Ling was compelled to lower his sights quickly when Trenčin were relegated in the summer of 2008. They needed three years to get back into the top division, but after a third-place finish last time out, the European dream has belatedly come true. "We are delighted to have reached these heights and to be playing in the Europa League," said Trenčín general secretary Róbert Rybníček.
Progress, however, has come at a price. If La Ling's decision to give Trenčin's young players their opportunity resulted in stars being born last season, many have already moved on. Eighteen-year-old midfielder Stanislav Lobotka has been loaned to Ajax after impressing scout Ronald de Boer in March. Forward František Kubík, 24, has moved to Ukrainian side FC Arsenal Kyiv. And Argentinian-born striker David Depetris – the First League's 16-goal top scorer last term – has been drafted by Rizespor of Turkey.
Even coach Adrián Guľa was lured away by domestic rivals MŠK Žilina, but despite having to start again without any name players, new coach Ľuboš Nosický is far from overawed. IFK may be the favourites on 18 and 25 July, yet the team from near the Czech border have a chance provided they produce their best. "Göteborg have experienced and physically strong players," the 45-year-old Nosický said. "We will have to give it our maximum effort."