Former national team boss Josef Chovanec is leading a Czech coaching triumvirate eager to restore MFK Ružomberok's top-three aspirations in Slovakia.
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"To be honest it was a struggle," admitted Josef Chovanec after his team battled to a 3-2 Slovak First League win against MŠK Žilina in his first match as MFK Ružomberok coach. "But we beat a good side. That could lift morale."
Given the circumstances, any victory – however hard-fought – would have been welcome. Ružomberok had started the season with owner Milan Fiľo targeting a top-three finish, but despite some impressive form for much of the autumn, coach Jozef Vukušič saw results enter a steep decline from early November; following Vukušič's dismissal, Ružomberok came into Saturday's visit of Žilina having lost six of their last seven league games. "The Ružomberok fans finally got to see a home win," said Chovanec. "[Three home matches] without a win was not very nice."
The 54-year-old former AC Sparta Praha and Czech Republic boss – born in what is now Slovakia but a Czech – had been watching Ružomberok's slump with concern since November in his role as club vice-president for sport. Given the opportunity to take charge, the ex-defender moved quickly, hiring his old AC Sparta Praha team-mate Horst Siegl as assistant and a third Czech – Ladislav Meier – as goalkeeping coach.
Chovanec and Siegl previously teamed up in the United Arab Emirates at Baniyas SC, winning the 2013 GCC Champions League, and will strive to pick up loose ends with the 2005/06 Slovak double winners. "We decided the team needed momentum," said Ružomberok general secretary Lubomír Golis of the appointment. "Working as a coach is completely different from being a club official," Chovanec added of his return to the bench. "Football is still the same game, but with this I have new responsibilities."
Having got that first win under his belt, Chovanec's next task is to get his side – third in the First League, 17 points off leaders ŠK Slovan Bratislava – playing good football. "This is the most important thing," he said. "Of course I will be asking for a better attitude from the players than they have shown in recent months."
Problems have not just been caused by players underperforming. The winter departure of 11-goal top scorer Miloš Lačný for Kazakhstan's FC Kairat Almaty left Ružomberok with a big gap to fill, though 2012/13 player of the season – and captain – Tomáš Ďubek hopes a corner has been turned. "With the coach having so much experience, we all believe things will start to go right again." Chovanec is optimistic. "It's good that everybody wants to work," he said. "I hope they stay the course and people will get behind us in the coming games."