EXCLUSIVE: Martin Skrtel on playing up front for his village team, Liverpool, and more


EXCLUSIVE: Martin Skrtel on playing up front for his village team, Liverpool, and more

Skrtel won several trophies and awards in his career
Skrtel won several trophies and awards in his careerTASR
Former Liverpool defender Martin Skrtel (38) ended his professional career prematurely, after a year at Spartak Trnava, due to fitness problems. He has been without top-tier football for one season. However, he remained faithful to the sport at an amateur level for his native Raztocno.

Flashscore spoke exclusively with four-time Slovak player of the year Skrtel - not only about his time in his country's eighth tier but also about life after his career, the past season at Liverpool and Slovakia's recent results.

'If he knew, he would have tried'

The word makes the man - he promised to play in his beloved Trnava at the end of his career. He kept his promise and even led the team to triumph in the Slovak Cup.

He also promised to pull on the shirt of his native village - Raztocno. Of course, again, it was not just words. Skrtel hasn't long finished a season in amateur football.

"When I went into it, I counted on it being about football and especially promotion," he said.

"That people would appreciate and enjoy me getting into villages I'd never been to before. 

"I've been used to that throughout my career, so I had no problem with it," Skrtel continued, in response to our question about whether he was getting tired of fan service over actually playing.

Tears in his eyes, Martin walks off the pitch in his last career appearance for Trnava
Tears in his eyes, Martin walks off the pitch in his last career appearance for TrnavaTASR

The former centre-half, a player with 104 caps for his country, a participant in the Euros and World Cup, didn't go to the villages just to show off. He proved himself on another stage, helping his teammates with thirteen goals in the process.

To clarify, he moved from his usual position to join his team's front line. Who knows what his numbers would have looked like if one of his former coaches discovered his hidden shooting potential?

"With Trnava coach Michal Gasparik, I often teased him that if he knew how I shot (at goal), he would try it in a match. Of course, everything (is) with an open mind," said Skrtel.

"The level of the eighth league is completely different, a player like I was during my career can make a name for himself in it. I'm happy about those goals.

"A lot of times I prefer to pass the ball and let someone else score them, the number 13 is fine - but it could have been more."

Even after all these years, Skrtel shows that he is hungry for self-improvement. He finished second with Raztocno and the fans in the villages can also look forward to more of the same in the new season.

"Yes, I will continue," he confirmed. "As long as my health serves me to the point that I will be able to play at the level I want to. I still enjoy it.

"In a way, it's good form, how you can keep fit. I don't know how many games it's going to be because I have a lot of outside activities. Whenever I can, I like to," added the former Liverpool star.

Read the rest of the interview below:

Flashscore: How is your health, the reason you retired from your professional career?

Skrtel: "Somehow I'm holding myself together, it's not ideal. If I follow the advice of doctors and physiotherapists and exercise, it is possible to live with it on a regular basis. 

"That's the most important thing for me. Football doesn't help, of course. As long as it's like now, that two days after a match I feel beaten, tired and sore, but by exercising I gradually put it right, I can live with it."

If the stats don't lie, you've only seen three yellow cards - and zero red cards - has the proverbial intransigence worn off you or have you played it off with experience and enjoyed it more?

"I had to approach football a little differently, it's a different style, I played in a different position.

"Practically, I go into a game not with the intention of getting knocked around, but mainly to make sure I don't get hurt. To have a good run, to sweat and to have a beer after the game (laughs).

"I don't want to say that there were not enough yellow cards, but the style of my football has changed rapidly in the eighth league."

Martin Skrtel in the Raztocno jersey
Martin Skrtel in the Raztocno jerseyLadislav Szibilla

Given all you've won when you hear from the stands that you're finished (laughs) and so on, what goes through your mind?

"To be honest, I've heard (a lot) of those things about myself! Sometimes my mind has almost stopped over it.

"I came to play village league, thinking I wanted to play some sport, to enjoy it, to promote village football. Then you come somewhere where they call you names, even vulgar ones, and after the game, they want to take a picture with you...

"I'm having second thoughts about that. In Slovakia, we should respect, it's not about me, but in general, people who achieve something, mean something in the world - it's sad when you find out that somewhere in the world they actually respect you more than at home in Slovakia."

What's stuck in your mind the most?

"(There have been) a lot of them. Vulgar, less vulgar... Some of them were funny. The best one was when a gentleman, a bit overweight on a bicycle behind the gate, shouted at me 'what are you shooting at, if you don't know (how to score)?'

"I just kicked it over the bar (at him) from a direct kick. I laughed when I saw the state he was in (laughs)."

'Klopp is in the right place'

Recently, you appeared in a Liverpool Legends match. Will this happen again?

"I've done two games, I enjoyed them. We'll see if they appeal to me again. The idea is to get as many former Liverpool footballers as possible through the ranks and into people's consciousness. If I'm invited and it's possible to go, I'd love to go."

Liverpool had a turbulent season in 2022/23. In the end, they narrowly missed out on a Champions League place. After previous successes, what did you think?

"When you watch all the clubs in the world, everyone goes through a less successful period. Liverpool have been on top for several seasons in a row. I wouldn't say it was to be expected, but something like this could have happened.

"The players and the coach were together for a long time. In a way, the downturn could have come, (and) it did. That's why I believe that, based on the changes that are happening at the club, Liverpool will get back to where they belong."

Jurgen Klopp has withstood all the pressure and remains on the bench. How important is his presence to the club's continued success?

"Jurgen staying is a logical step, he's the right coach in the right place. He has achieved everything with the club. It's also clear from his previous jobs that he has gone through less successful seasons.

"I believe that after the changes they have made and the new players that have come in, the club will take off. His position in this process is very important. He has proved it many times, whether it be at Liverpool, Mainz or Dortmund, that he can kick a team into gear. I hope he can do it again."

'I wanted to go back'

Trnava lured you after the end of your pro career. What is your current situation?

"It's hard - I received an offer from Trnava, but didn't respond to it. I haven't (officially) joined the club yet. On the other hand, we communicate with the coach, the implementation team and the president often.

"I don't have an official position in the club. I care about Spartak so that the team can do well. We consult when the coach wants my advice and opinion. I am always happy to give it to him. Whether to call it 'consultant', 'ambassador'... When I can, I'm always happy to help."

You've been working on your coaching lately. Which license in particular are you pursuing and what stage are you at?

"I hold a UEFA A licence. It has expired, but I am glad that I managed to renew it while I was on placement at both Dunajska Streda and Spartak.

"We will see. I'm not saying I want to be a coach, but if the chance comes, I want to be ready for it."

Players prefer to play rather than theorize, it's a lengthy process. Didn't it discourage you that you had to basically go back to basics?

"I realise that the coaching position is completely different from the playing position. The biggest test will come if I apply for the UEFA PRO licence, I'm not thinking about that at the moment. If I were to go down the coaching route, I could be an assistant or coach in a lower league or possibly a youth league now. We'll see."

Have you come to terms with the end of your active pro career?

"I have already come to terms with it. Sure, there are moments when I miss football immensely. I admit that it's not that I regret it, but there have been moments when I've wondered if I would somehow return to football.

"Unfortunately, my health doesn't allow me to do that (now). I am reconciled to it. The top-(tier) football life is at an end. I'm just looking ahead to see what direction I'm going to take next."

'School comes first'

The family can enjoy you a lot more at the moment. Your son has chosen a slightly different adrenaline rush - he's racing go-karts...

"Exactly, I finally have the space to spend time with my family, my wife and my son. I've missed a lot of time together throughout my career, which I've regretted.

"We're trying to make up for it. The little one chose the sport he chose, we fully support him, as always. He started with football, played tennis, he plays golf, he drives go-karts, it's up to him. We encourage him, especially, to study and do school.

"In addition, he can have sports as a hobby. We'll see in the future what direction his eventual sporting career develops. School is the first priority for us. Everything else (is) a hobby."

Virtually all the best F1 drivers started out in karting - Hamilton, Verstappen, Leclerc... Do you share a similar vision?

"F1 is very popular with kids growing up and they admire the drivers. They have the opportunity to watch them on TV or on the Internet. It's a big boom in the world.

"We don't look that far (ahead), my son has been racing for a year and a half, you can tell he's doing well. Right now, I think he's fourth in the rankings in Slovakia. He finished sixteenth at the World Championships, which is a nice achievement.

"We'll see how it goes from here. Karting in Slovakia is not as widespread as in the world. So far he is doing well and he is enjoying it."

'Legitimate criticism of Slovakia'

The criticism for the Slovakia national team's performances is justified. Do you agree?

"The criticism was, to be honest, spot on, except against Bosnia - the performances were not what they should have been.

"On the other hand, the team scored enough points and came much closer to promotion. After all, the team is mainly playing for points and promotion. Any player will tell you that he would rather have more points and play worse than the other way around.

"The national team is still in a state of transition. The results they have achieved will reflect on their self-esteem. I believe they will finish the qualification, which they started well, and the performances will also go up."

Martin Skrtel played 104 games for Slovakia
Martin Skrtel played 104 games for SlovakiaTASR

Two wins from the last two matches have shot Slovakia into a decent position to fight for qualification. The next matches will be without Marek Hamsik. Can the team cope without him?

"I firmly believe so. Of course, Marek is a personality not only of our football but also of world football. His presence on the pitch was felt. I have said it many times and I will repeat myself - we have to start looking at the team without Hamsik, Kucka and Pekarik.

"Without experienced players, we need others - like Lobotka, Skriniar, Duda or Haraslin to take responsibility. They have the quality to become leaders, they have to prove it in personality as well. I hope they will succeed and the future of the national team will be bright."


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