Why You'll Like Him
The Partenopei (the people of Naples) call him Marieko, which sounds like a Pokemon character.
Why You'll Hate Him
If you have any sort of phobia pertaining to your ears (which is perfectly normal, I assure you) you’re going to flinch while watching Hamsik play, as he has a strange affinity for cupping his ears.
At just 22 years old, Marek Hamšík is attracting hordes of international admirers—although it’s unlikely any of them are there for his pretty face. Marieko is gangly, with tattoos from his neck down to his ribcage (if there are any further south, I’m ok with them remaining a mystery), and sports tall, spiky hair to counteract his buck teeth.
Yet when he takes to the football pitch, he is called eye-catching, mouth-watering, and head-turning. Hamšík is no quietly hardworking midfielder. Although he often shoulders a bit of the less-flashy defensive duties, he’s more likely to be found in an attacking role. On Vladimir Weiss’ Slovakian side, the man in the captain’s armband will be given a clear path to take the ball forward—and if the path isn’t clear, Hamšík will simply feign a pass and then continue to dribble forward. Once he finds his way into the box, he’s able to knock it in with his head, nudge it in with a toe, or slam it to the back of the net.
Age: 22 years old
Club Teams: SSC Napoli (2007-present), Brescia Calcio (2004-2007), Slovan Bratislava (2002-2004)
National Team Debut: February 7, 2007 in a friendly against Poland.
World Cup(s): n/a
In 2002, Hamšík signed for the Slovak club Slovan Bratislava, playing just once for their first team but scoring a goal in that match. Serie A club Brescia signed him in 2004, giving Hamšík his debut in 2005 at the age of 17. Brescia was regulated to Serie B in 2005, but Marek stayed on for two more seasons, scoring 10 goals in 40 matches in 2006-2007.
This impressive display caught the eye of newly-promoted Napoli, who signed Hamšík to a five-year contract in June 2007. Famously hard to please, the Napoli faithful embraced the Slovakian, probably due to his dramatic flair both on and off the pitch. After goals, Marieko variously vaults over sideboards, pulls off his shinguard, or cups his hands around his ears.
Of course, such celebrations would simply be the result of an overinflated ego if Hamšík weren’t a legitimate threat in Napoli’s starting XI. He’s scored 30 goals in his time at the club, including 12 goals this season. Marek’s deft touch from both feet has attracted the likes of Chelsea, Manchester City and Inter Milan, but Hamšík still insists he’ll be signing a new contract with Napoli.
2010 marks the first time Slovakia has qualified for the World Cup. That they did this year was certainly due in part to Marek Hamšík. The tattooed talisman captains his national squad in style and earned bragging rights as Slovakia’s 2009 Young Player of the Year. The national side comes into the World Cup with seven wins, one draw and two losses in qualification, scoring 22 goals. Just two were scored by Hamšík, but his contribution is felt throughout the pitch.
Weiss first gave Marek the armband in October 2009, when Slovakia traveled to Poland amidst a snowstorm. This was to be their final match in World Cup qualification, and a win was essential for travel to South Africa. Choosing Hamšík to captain the team at such a critical juncture showed Weiss’ faith in the leadership and strength of his young midfielder.
Yet as the qualifier against their Czech Republic neighbors showed, sometimes Hamšík reveals his age, to the detriment of his teammates. Just minutes after putting away a beautiful penalty kick to give Slovakia the lead, he was booked on a second yellow, bringing the team to ten men and allowing Czech Republic the eventual draw.
What to Look For
As stated above, Hamšík will stand out on the field, so spotting him won’t be the issue. Rather, it will be harder to keep your eyes on the other players, as Marek often seems to be playing in many places at once. In fact, Weiss has mentioned his versatility as one of his greatest gifts, noting that he will be able to use Hamšík as both an attacking midfielder and a supporting striker.
Hamšík will also be the go-to man for free-kicks and penalties. For someone so young, he is able to keep his cool during these high pressure moments, and with a team new to such large-scale tournaments it is critical to have someone like Hamšík available to stay calm and put the ball into the net.
Yet Slovakia are in Group F, of which Italy are the favorites. Although odds are on Italy to win, if a surprise upset comes it just might be in the form of Marieko. Out of the 30-man provisional list, 29 play in Italy, and 3 are Hamšík’s teammates on SSC Napoli. He’s familiar with their styles and aware of their weaknesses. This enterprising player will exploit their flaws, perhaps to the point where he can draw out their defense before slipping behind them and into position within the box. Watch for Hamšík to get under Italy’s skin.
Kirsten Schelwitz's ear phobia only enhances her writing on the beautiful game, which you can find at SB Nation's Aston Villa blog, 7500 to Holte. Kirsten will be contributing to SB Nation Soccer throughout the 2010 World Cup.