'The biggest star since Zlatan!' - Hamsik's surreal move from China to Sweden

Marek Hamsik Zlatan Ibrahimovic GFX
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The landscape in Chinese football has changed dramatically post-Covid-19 and the ex-Napoli star needed game time ahead of this summer's Euro 2020

Monday brought one of the most surprising transfers of the season when Swedish side IFK Goteborg announced the arrival of Marek Hamsik.

The Slovakian icon became the latest big money signing to join the Chinese Super League exodus but has ended up at a very unusual destination for a player of his calibre.

Hamsik has signed a contract through to the end of August, which means he could play in at least 17 league games for Goteborg.

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“It’s totally surreal," Anton Zetterman, a Swedish journalist from FotbollDirekt tells Goal. 

"When it comes to foreign players in Allsvenskan, he is the biggest thing ever. In modern times I can only think of Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who played eight games for Malmo before leaving for Ajax in 2001.

“There is no one above him when it comes to class and quality.”

Hamsik intends to play regularly before the European Championship this summer and comes to Allsvenskan on the back of having his contract at Dalian Professional terminated.

Boyhood club Slovan Bratislava, where Hamsik left at the age of 17, were also interested but there was one crucial contract clause which gave Goteborg the edge.

“The contract is valid until August 31 and there is a clause which is vital for us. It means that in the case of interest from another club, which Marek would want to join, Goteborg will allow him to leave before his contract ends,” his agent Juraj Venglos told the Dennik Sport newspaper.

Due to travel restrictions between Slovakia and China caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, it was difficult for the 33-year-old to join up with Dalian. As he wasn’t getting to play regularly at club level, it had impact on his match fitness.

Marek Hamsik GFX

The national team have been largely dependent on Hamsik’s vision and creativity and the playmaker’s form is vital for the country’s chances of success at the tournament. Hamsik has played 122 games for his country and scored 26 goals; he is the nation’s most-capped player and top goalscorer.

He was outstanding in the Euro 2020 qualifiers, leading Slovakia to the final tournament, where they will be in a group with Spain, Poland and Sweden. Euro 2020 will be his third major tournament, after the 2010 World Cup and Euro 2016.

His relationship with Slovak fans hasn’t always been idyllic, as supporters initially complained that he couldn’t replicate his heroic Napoli performances in the national team shirt. However, after being given freedom by former coach Jan Kozak Sr, Hamsik thrived.

During Euro 2016, Kozak stated that Hamsik should join “a bigger club” than Napoli. But Hamsik stayed loyal to Napoli despite interest from the European elite, and only left in 2019 for China as one of the latest wave of foreign stars joining the CSL.

Marek Hamsik GFX

The transfer to China had no negative impact on his performances for Slovakia and he maintained his position as the team’s leader. But Chinese football has undergone major changes over the past few months, including new salary caps, and the scale of the fallout from the coronavirus pandemic has seen champions Jiangsu FC go under.

Rafael Benitez, who also coached Hamsik at Napoli, has left Dalian and so Hamsik also bid farewell.

Although a return to Slovan didn’t work out, Sweden was a logical step. The new Swedish Allsvenskan season starts on April 10, so Hamsik will have some pre-season time with his new team-mates, and will also play in some friendly games, before he joins Slovakia’s camp during the March international break.

Dozens of Goteborg’s fans gathered for Hamsik’s arrival at the airport on Sunday to meet their new star and Hamsik’s arrival means a great opportunity for the club. Goteborg last won the Allsvenskan title in 2007 but have big ambitions now.

“If Messi joined the worst team in Sweden, would he win them the title?” asked Zetterman. “I guess not. It depends also on players around him. In my opinion, Goteborg without Hamsik has a quality for the sixth or seventh place in the table.”

Hamsik’s arrival might also be convenient for Goteborg’s finances, especially when it comes to merchandise and marketing.

“When Goteborg got the offer, they didn’t even think about it. Now they can sell merch, season tickets – even if fans might not be able to use them due to pandemic – and it will bring PR and media attention,” Zetterman states.

According to Aftonbladet, Goteborg’s finances are not at risk with the acquisition of such a high-profile star, since Hamsik will earn only €10,000 a month. Goteborg will also receive compensation for Hamsik’s expected participation at Euro 2020.

The club also revealed that 1,400 items of Hamsik merchandise were sold in just a few hours and supporters continue to buy season tickets, which are limited due to pandemic, and despite the prospect of no fans being able to attend in the coming months.