Vladimir Weiss III: Slovakia's former Man City academy star with a cult following at Rangers

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There's only one Lionel Messi. There's only one Cristiano Ronaldo. But there are three Vladimir Weiss'!

Indeed, the latter is a name which has a long and storied history in Slovakian football, from Olympic finals to World Cups. And right up to the current European Championship.

Indeed, Vladimir Weiss Mark III was part of the Slovakia squad which fell in the final round of group games in this summer's tournament.

Now a veteran of the national team at 31, he has enjoyed a nomadic career that started with huge promise at Manchester City and Rangers, and took in spells in Italy, Greece and Qatar before a family homecoming.

Weiss currently plays for Slovan Bratislava, the most successful team in Slovakian football history. His father – with whom he shares the same name – is the manager, having also previously coached his son during a stint as Slovakia boss between 2008 and 2012.

Together, they enjoyed the greatest moment in their country's sporting history, when, in a first ever appearance at the World Cup finals, Slovakia sealed a last-16 place by eliminating defending champions Italy with a dramatic 3-2 victory in Johannesburg.

Success on the international stage was nothing new for the Weiss family, though. The original Vladimir Weiss represented Czechoslovakia at the 1964 Olympics in Tokyo, winning a silver medal in men's football.

As a player, though, the youngest Wladimir Weiss has already surpassed the achievements of his father and grandfather by claiming league honours in four different countries and racking up 70 international caps.

However, it has nonetheless been a career of unfulfilled potential, and one dogged by controversy.

Weiss was spotted as a youngster by Man City and signed for their academy, where he became a star at youth level.

This culminated in victory over Chelsea in the 2008 FA Youth Cup final, with Weiss scoring in a 3-1 second-leg victory to complete a 4-2 aggregate triumph.

At the end of the following season, Weiss made his senior debut, playing 20 minutes of the final Premier League fixture of 2008-09, against Bolton. It would prove his only league appearance for the Citizens.

By the time of Weiss' first-team breakthrough, City had already been changed forever by the Abu Dhabi United Group's takeover of the club in August 2008.

Robinho's deadline day arrival from Real Madrid was just the first of a plethora of glamour signings. There was little room in the senior squad for academy graduates.

So, while Weiss signed a new deal in December 2009 tying him to City until 2012, he would spend the final two years of his contract out on loan, with varying degrees of success.

A half-season at then-Premier League side Bolton involved a lot of bench-warming but, after joining Rangers in 2010-11, he helped the Glasgow giants pip bitter rivals Celtic, who had also expressed an interest in his services, to the Scottish league title by a solitary point.

Weiss' time at Ibrox summed up his career, as he was regarded as a mercurial talent who could win some matches single-handedly while going missing completely in others.

He scored several magnificent goals, including one spectacular low drive against Hamilton and is remembered fondly by many Rangers supporters.

However, despite his success in Scotland, there was still no place for him at City, where the competition for places was only intensifying with each passing transfer window.

As a result, Weiss was allowed to leave just after Roberto Mancini's side had been crowned Premier League champions in 2012. 

The winger had spent the final season of his City career on loan at Espanyol in Spain but when he left the Etihad for good, he ended up in Italy, with Pescara. 

He was on the move again a year later, though, joining Olympiacos in Greece – where he won the Super League – before promptly moving on to Lekhwiya – with whom he picked up two Qatar Stars League titles.

Weiss then spent three years at another Qatari outfit, Al-Gharafa, before returning to Slovakia in 2020 to join Bratislava.

By that stage, Weiss was as famous in his homeland for his off-field behaviour as for his on-field exploits, particularly on international duty.

Breaking curfew to visit a nightclub, a fight in a fast-food restaurant, trashing a hotel room after Slovakia qualified for Euro 2016 – Weiss already had a lengthy rap sheet before matters came to a head in October 2018.

Slovakia manager Jan Kozak resigned after several members of his squad – including Weiss – left the team hotel to go partying, saying he could not work with the team if most of the key players did not respect his rules.

"It hurts a lot, as if somebody has spat on me," Kozak told a press conference. "It was like a slap in the face.

"I could have pretended not to know, but that's not my style. Or I could have suspended the seven players from the national team, but no.

"To have sent these players away could have affected Slovakia's future because their quality cannot be ignored, so that's why I decided to resign."

Weiss retired from international duty the following month, after being benched by Kozak's successor, Pavel Hapal.

However, the waning of his club career in Qatar – he was released by Al Gharafa in December 2019 – seemed to bring Weiss back down to earth, and he was reconsidered for Slovakia – provided he found some form and fitness.

His time at Bratislava has been redemptive. When he joined, he was sidelined by a hernia injury which required operations, and was also hampered by the coronavirus pandemic.

However, once football resumed and Weiss proved his fitness, he rekindled some of the old spark, even netting the winner in the 2021 Slovak Cup Final, to complete a second successive domestic double for Slovan.

It was enough to earn him a place in the 26-man squad for Slovakia at the Euros. The respect he still commands in Slovakian football is demonstrated by the fact that he wore the No.7 jersey, even though he was not a starter.

Weiss ultimately played a bit-part role in Slovakia's Euros, an unused sub for their only win against Poland, before playing a combined 35 minutes from the bench in the defeats to Sweden and Spain as they crashed out in the group stage.

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However, he has been one of the stars of Slovakia's short football history – even if sometimes he has played the part of the anti-hero.

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