Calzona seeks Euro redemption with Slovakia after Napoli flop

AFP , Friday 7 Jun 2024

For Slovakia coach Francesco Calzona, Euro 2024 may be an opportunity to make up for a disastrous spring at the helm of Serie A defending champions Napoli.

Francesco Calzona
FILE - Slovakia's Italian head coach Francesco Calzona. Photo: AFP

 

Until last Wednesday, the 55-year-old Italian was sitting in two chairs as the coach of the Italian club and the Slovak national team.

But a tenth-place finish in the Serie A, far from the European cups for next season, saw his workload drop by half as Napoli replaced him with Antonio Conte.

Calzona's career with Slovakia is a different story -- seven wins in ten Euro 2024 qualifiers and a comfortable cushion in the second place of Group J behind a perfect Portugal.

An assistant coach at Napoli in 2015-18 and 2021-22, Calzona signed with Slovakia in 2022 owing to a recommendation from former star Napoli and Slovakia midfielder Marek Hamsik.

The struggling Slovaks found new motivation under the coach doubted by many experts.

"When I came, I found a depressed and passive team devoid of any trust in its abilities," Calzona said.

"Now I can see a team which is confident and wants to impress."

"I don't know how far we will get but I am sure we will do our best to use our potential to the maximum."

Shortly after Slovakia clinched a place at Euro 2024, Calzona got his dream job, signing as the head coach with struggling Napoli in February.

He soon found it was a misstep.

"I thought we could do better but unfortunately it didn't happen," Calzona said in May as Napoli failed to move up the Serie A table.

"We had the qualities to do better, but this year has been a disappointment and a curse."

His dual role did not help the Slovak national team either -- the "Slovak Falcons" lost 2-0 to Austria and drew 1-1 with Norway in friendlies.

"Calzona is under massive pressure," said Hamsik, who is Calzona's assistant in the national team.

"He said he could not wait to come to the Slovakia training camp."

'Exceptional'
 

Slovakia are facing Belgium on June 17, Ukraine four days later and Romania on June 26 in Group E of Euro 2024 hosted by Germany and starting on June 14.

This will be the country's third Euro since it became independent in 1993, following the split of former Czechoslovakia.

The Slovaks reached the round of 16 on their Euro premiere in 2016 and failed to make it past the group stage at Euro 2020.

Slovak Football Association (SFZ) head Jan Kovacik is hoping Slovakia will do better in Germany under the second foreign coach in the team's history.

"The way he works and the way the players have accepted his philosophy, that's so exceptional," he said in a recent interview.

"The players simply believe that if they follow his instructions, we can succeed."

Calzona himself lays stress on discipline, saying "the players' behaviour on and off the pitch matters more than their skills".

"I am trying to impose on the team the mentality to play all games openly, regardless of the opponent's qualities," Calzona said.

"The only way to improve is not to be satisfied with what you have achieved, but to be willing and eager to keep improving. That's the only way we can compete."

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