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Saturday, 19 April 2014

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Ex-Blue Michalik: I'm really proud I could play for Portsmouth

When the film is produced on the staggering demise of Portsmouth FC they should turn to Lubo Michalik for the title. “It was a never-ending story, you know?” says the former Carlisle defender who was until recently a spectator at the famine.

Lubo Michalik photo
Lubo Michalik

The eternal fall-out at Fratton Park has brought down many victims harder than a centre-half who was paid for a few months and then left. Michalik does not demand sympathy for having been on the books of football’s basket case club.

But the giant Slovakian is still qualified to offer insight on the tragic place Carlisle go next. Now getting his feet under the table at a new employers’ – FC Kairat Almaty, in Kazakhstan – Michalik looks back on his time at Fratton Park with a blend of sorrow and, surprisingly, pride.

“Yeah, it was really, really difficult time,” he says. “Everybody knows they can sign players just for short-term, for one month. I signed four contracts, each for a month, and every day there was a bad message. Someone was leaving, or we had to leave the training ground for some reason. There were a few court cases, which every time got delayed.

“That made it frustrating always. But I also enjoyed my time in Portsmouth because I played almost every game and the fans are unbelievable.”

Many of those supporters Michalik appears to revere are part of the Pompey Supporters Trust, the movement that is trying to buy the club and hopefully end the staggering era of financial disarray which has taken Portsmouth to the brink.

Certainly, the few dozen footballers who signed up on temporary terms this season, and struggled to make things work on the pitch, are by no means the hardest-hit by the various charlatans who have brought the club to its knees.

The detail a man like Michalik is able to report, though, is revealing in its own way and helps to explain why United’s next opponents have gone 20 matches without winning and appear to be nosediving into League Two (though that, in itself, may be the least of their problems).

How did he wind up there at all, though, after leaving Carlisle last summer in pursuit of “a new challenge”? Surely a stay at this south coast resort wasn’t what he had in mind?

“I came to a difficult situation in the summer because I had a few offers,” Michalik says, “and I was waiting to see how one team was going to do in Europe, but they got knocked out after the first round and then I was struggling to get a team. Portsmouth gave me the opportunity to play games in England again so I signed there.

“I more or less knew what was happening, but the most important thing is I’m a football player. I don’t know exactly what’s happening in the offices and stuff like that. I couldn’t change those things. For me it was playing football matches, 11 v 11. But concentrating on the football was still difficult.

“You didn’t have time to get used to your team-mates. Every Monday there were new faces and players were leaving the team. So the spirit wasn’t the best. Everybody was trying but you can’t really hide some things.

“As players you would at least like to sign six-month or one-year agreements, not one month. It meant players were travelling in, long journeys from Birmingham and London. Maybe you don’t realise but these things affect performance as well.”

Michalik – after two seasons with United – scored on his debut in a home defeat to Swindon and contributed to five wins, before the victories dried up in mid-October. With manager Michael Appleton decamping to Blackpool to add to the revolving door of players, stability was never likely to settle on Fratton Park.

But some strength can always be found in adversity, says the 29-year-old, who does not reflect on his 20 appearances bitterly. “I’m actually really proud I could play for Portsmouth,” he says. “Every home match we had more than 10,000 people. They knew the situation and they just wanted to see us work hard on the pitch. We lost 5-0 at Swindon and they still gave us standing ovation after the game.

“I stayed in a club house while I was there, six of us with one room each. That was something new for me. There was a few nationalities in there – Austria, Hungary, England, Slovakia. It was interesting mix but something I enjoyed.

“Of course it wasn’t easy for anyone connected to the club. Basically everybody tried to hide the problems, tried their best. But when players are offered a better opportunity, they usually leave. The same with staff, like fitness coach, keeper coach, assistant manager.”

With this incredible turnover of personnel it is little surprise that Pompey have made little mark on League One, their latest staging post in a slide down from their Premier League stay and FA Cup triumph in 2008.

All things being equal this weekend’s game offers United a free shot at a wounded and stumbling opponent. Yet their draw at Hartlepool on Tuesday may hint at a gallows spirit which Michalik insists will be there when Greg Abbott’s team run out at Fratton Park in two days’ time.

“Portsmouth at Fratton Park is still not easy for an opponent,” he insists. “This is a very interesting game and I don’t even know what team I want to win, because I have played in both teams and have many friends in both places.

“If things had been different I would have stayed. When I first came, they said to me it’s likely to take one month, maximum two, to get out of administration. But every court case was delayed and it was a never-ending story, you know.

“They offered me another month but I had longer offer from club in Kazakhstan. I had to take it. But if they had been able to keep me in the team and offer me longer-term contract I would have liked to stay, yes.

“Fratton Park is still a special place to play, I am sure the Carlisle team will find this. It’s a huge club and people are used to playing in a higher league.”

With this old club’s fate increasingly at the mercy of courts and Football League panels, rather than men in boots, this may be a weekend to be thankful that United, however cash-poor, are much more on the level.

After Saturday the Cumbrians will leave Pompey to their troubles, ideally with three points in the safe, but surely with the hope shared by all of football that their rivals find a more stable footing, eventually.

There has to be something worth salvaging when even a temporary centre-half from Slovakia feels able to stand on the mounting pile of ex-Portsmouth players and say, with feeling: “I think they will be okay in a few months. I hope so.”

  • Lubo Michalik admits he is heading into the unknown after joining Kazakhstan outfit FA Kairat Almaty.

The Slovakian international has ended his six-year stay in English football after leaving Portsmouth to join up with his former national team coach, Vladimir Weiss, at his new club. Michalik says he is ready for the challenge and maintains he does not regret quitting Carlisle in the summer despite his affection for the Brunton Park club.

“Everything is new for me, different country, different culture, but so far I am enjoying every day,” Michalik said. “It is a very big city of about two million people. The club finished 10th in the league last season and were very disappointing, so the manager has signed three or four players to try and be more successful.

“The manager was very successful in Slovakia and with the national team. I know a few players here as well, so it felt easier to come here. I don’t know much about the country but I find out a few things from the players who played there last season, from the internet, from some people who worked there.

“There is one Scottish player in the team [former Dundee United defender Stuart Duff] and he only said positive things. It’s something new for me but I'm really excited.”

Michalik insists he treasures all his memories of his 75-game United career. The former Bolton and Leeds centre-half earned a winner’s medal at Wembley in the 2011 Johnstone’s Paint Trophy Final.

He added: “It was my best six years in England and I enjoy every moment.

“I loved every day in Carlisle. We won the cup at Wembley, I played regularly and I still have many friends there. I check all the results week-in-week-out and I’m still a fan of Carlisle.

“I don’t regret any decision. I always hope I make the right one. In the summer I felt I wanted new challenge. As for the future, in football you never know.

“If someone told me three months ago I was going to play for Kazakhstan team I wouldn't believe it. But I was rating this offer and there were more pluses than minuses, so I decided to come here.”

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