PRAGUE (Reuters) – With his distinctive mohawk-style haircut and tattooed arms, Slovakia captain Marek Hamsik has long been a noticeable presence on the pitch and heads to Euro 2020 for what may be his last major tournament for the national team.
As Slovakia’s most-capped player and all-time leading scorer the 33-year-old midfielder, who plied his trade for years at Napoli, remains key to Slovakia’s chances in Group E, which includes Poland, Sweden and Spain.
Hamsik made his international debut in 2007 and captained the team aged 21 before leading Slovakia to their first Euro final as an independent country in 2016 when they advanced to the knockout round before losing to Germany.
Czech under-18 national team coach David Holoubek, who coached Ruzomberok in the Slovak top flight, has said that he believes while Hamsik may have lost a step on the pitch, his presence lifts his team mates.
“He is a big player for Slovakia and important because of the experience he brings to the squad,” Holoubek told Reuters. “It’s important Hamsik is out there to lead the team.”
Hamsik, who has scored 26 goals in 126 games for the national team, leads a group of veteran players and fellow midfielders that include Ferencvaros’s Robert Mak and Parma’s Juraj Kucka.
While Slovakia left it late to qualify for the tournament, victories over Ireland and Northern Ireland in two dramatic playoff matches should provide much-needed belief.
Hamsik started his career at Slovan Bratislava where he made a handful of appearances before moving to Brescia and then Napoli in 2007 where his tally of 121 goals outpaced the Serie A side’s all-time great Diego Maradona.
A hard-working attacking midfielder able to score and create goals, Hamsik joined Chinese Super League club Dalian in 2019 but left to sign for Swedish side IFK Gothenburg as a free agent last March to get some matches in before this year’s finals.
He also gained the position of Slovakia captain in 2019 following the retirement of Martin Skrtel and may now look to make his mark before signing off on a glittering career.
(Reporting by Michael Kahn; Additional reporting by Robert Muller; Editing by Ken Ferris)