Robert Vittek — With 18 goals in 69 international appearances, Robert Vittek is just four strikes short of the all-time Slovak goalscoring record, held by the now-retired Szilard Nemeth. If he is able to overcome this relatively minor hurdle, the second most capped player in the history of Slovak football will have left a lasting imprint on the game.
Vittek is nothing less than a legend in his homeland, and his career almost got off to a legendary start, when he signed a pre-contract with the mighty Real Madrid as a precocious 17-year-old. Ultimately, the deal was to fall through due to a knee ligament injury, but the penalty-box predator would swiftly get over his disappointment by returning to the town of his birth to ply his trade at Slovan Bratislava.
Despite his age, he proceeded to live up to the high expectations placed upon his young shoulders. From 1999 to 2003, he could not miss in front of goal, hitting the back of the net 47 times in 101 appearances, earning a first, deserved cap for Slovakia en route. Prior to the 2003/04 season kick-off, he decided to take his career to the next level by moving to a Nuremberg side fighting to extract themselves from the German second division. The roll of the dice worked out for Vittek, as the club promptly earned promotion to the Bundesliga, helped on their way by the Slovak’s goals.
He achieved much success in Bavaria, none more so than the rich vein of form he enjoyed in spring 2006. The powerful hitman notched up 16 goals in 17 Bundesliga encounters, which included eight in three games as well as two hat-tricks in a row against Duisburg and Cologne, the first time any player had managed such a feat in the German top tier. Unsurprisingly, he was subsequently named Slovak Player of the Year.
Twelve months down the line, with a 2007 German Cup-winners medal in his pocket, Vittek yearned for a change of scenery, having not enjoyed one of his more prolific seasons in front of goal. Lille and Ligue 1 in France would be his next stop-off. His strength, heading ability, devastating bursts of pace and clinical finishing rapidly won over supporters of Les Dogues, but the level of competition for places at the club was considerable, with Gervinho, Pierre-Alain Frau and Tulio De Melo all jostling with Vittek for a starting slot in attack.
Lacking the playing time required to guarantee himself a place in Vladimir Weiss’ Slovakia FIFA World Cup squad, Vittek packed his bags for Ankaragucu in Turkey, in a loan deal arranged during the most recent January transfer window. The 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa is of paramount importance to the player and to his country. The former Slovakia captain confirmed as much in an interview with FIFA.com a few months ago, stating that “the whole of Slovakia would be incredibly proud if we were to qualify for the World Cup finals for the first time,” before musing: “Maybe we’ll play to our full potential once we get to the finals.” The time has come to achieve that potential, and perhaps write a new page in the history of Slovak football.
Vittek has also been part of the Slovak national team since 2001. With 63 national team caps under his belt, only Miroslav Karhan has seen more national team action than Vittek on the current roster. Vittek scored Slovakia’s first ever goal at a World Cup, netting in the 1–1 draw with New Zealand on 15 June 2010. Vittek also scored two goals against Italy on 24 June 2010 to knock them out of the competition and subsequently ensure Slovakia progress to the 2010 FIFA World Cup knockout stage.