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New King of Naples a danger to Irish

Big moves for Slovaks serves up a note of warning for Euro 2020


Big price tag: Defender Milan Skriniar won't move for less than €60million

Big price tag: Defender Milan Skriniar won't move for less than €60million

Big price tag: Defender Milan Skriniar won't move for less than €60million

Outplay Juventus, outshine Cristiano Ronaldo and send him home defeated, on the verge of tears.

Not a bad way to mark your league debut for your new club, especially when you have a large price tag, and the burden that comes with that, on your shoulders.

Stanislav Lobotka did that last Sunday, playing for Napoli in their 2-1 win at home to a pretty handy Juve side (the losers also had Wojciech Szczesny, Matthijs de Ligt, Miralem Pjanic and Gonzalo Higuaín).

Chances are, you've never heard of 'Stan' Lobotka.

That will have changed in the next two months as the attacking midfielder is one of the key players in the Slovakian squad which takes on Ireland, on home soil, in the Euro 2020 playoff.

His transter, a €27m move from Celta Vigo to Napoli, didn't cause much of a stir over here, but it made waves back home in Slovakia, a new record for one of their players, and with a pop-star girlfriend (her group's called Twiins if you want to find out more), it's meat and drink for the Slovak tabloids.

The fuss over that deal meant that another transfer of a Slovakia player this week, the one which took Róbert Bozeník from Zilina to Feyenoord for €5m, was lost, but it's still a big enough deal, and another sign of how highly rated Slovakia's players are, despite their lack of recognition in this part of the world.

Bozenik is another name Irish football will need to familiarise itself with in the weeks ahead: just 20, Bozenik has scored four times in eight appearances for the Slovak senior side. His progress at Feyenoord can also be benchmarked with an Irish example: our last export to that club, Liam Kelly (the former U21 cap who had a complicated relationship with the FAI, and Martin O'Neill) barely lasted six months of his three-year deal, played only once and is back in England, on loan to a third-tier club.

The €27m record for a Slovakian player won't last long if there is movement this week, before the close of the transfer window, for Lobotka's international team-mate Milan Skriniar.

His agent likes to drip-feed stories into the ever-hungry sports media in Spain and Italy about how Real Madrid and Barcelona are battling with each other to sign the Inter Milan defender, how he won't move for less than €60m and that his fee will one day go above the €100m mark.

Big-money transfers won't decide who wins that playoff in Bratislava and goes through to play either Bosnia or Northern Ireland.

But the fact that a side like Napoli want to sign one of their players, in time for next month's Champions League duel with Barcelona, shows there is talent there: we just don't know about it, or don't care, in this Premier League-obsessed part of the world.

Just two of Mick McCarthy's players have moved in this window. Middlesbrough didn't fight all that hard to keep Darren Randolph when West Ham came calling. And on that club's current form, Randolph will be back in the Championship next season.

Glenn Whelan did have offers in the Championship but opted for a club chasing promotion to that division (Fleetwood Town) ahead of those interested parties who were trying to stay in it (Luton, Barnsley).

It's fair to say that Irish football breathed a sigh of relief when McCarthy's team were drawn with Slovakia, a team who lumbered through the group stages, playing home qualifiers in half-empty stadiums in front of grumpy fans.

But that Irish arrogance, and presumption of success in the playoff, is like the FAI's annual accounts: not based on facts but on outdated aspirations, misinformed.

Stan's the man? Watch his progress with Napoli.