Countdown 22-23: Sky Blues’ Slovakia signing has won trophies all over Europe – now his sights are set on success in the A-League, he tells Tom Smithies.
“How you say… I like to score goals,” says Robert Mak with a broad grin, and based on past form you wouldn’t bet against Sydney FC’s acquisition doing precisely that.
At 31, Mak has spent most of his life seizing chances, literally and figuratively, and this serial collector of silverware – and of great football moments – wants to add another title to his resume, in the Sky Blue of Sydney.
A title and/or cup winner in Hungary, Russia, Greece and Slovakia, Mak won his first trophy in Manchester City’s colours in 2008 – the FA Youth Cup, in the company of Daniel Sturridge, Keiran Trippier, Ben Mee and – by coincidence – David Ball, now an A-League opponent of Mak’s for Wellington.
Converted from a striker to a winger in his teens at Manchester City’s academy – on the grounds his slight frame was better suited to the wide areas of a pitch – Mak still has the instinct to head centrally, as a ratio of a goal every five games or so throughout his career will attest.
Throughout his career Mak has shown an aptitude for a challenge, turning adversity into character building – starting with moving from Slovakia to Manchester aged 15 to join City’s academy.
“It was not an easy decision, we played this youth tournament in Slovakia and my agent came with the idea to join Manchester City – develop my training skills and everything because it’s much better than in my country. The taking care of the young players is also much better,” Mak tells KEEPUP.
“It was very, very difficult because I was still 15 years old. I had to finish my school (year) to let me go abroad, and I went there without (speaking) English, without anything.
“We lived in an English family, they only spoke English, but it was three Slovakian players together. When I look back now I say this was my best decision of my life because they helped me a lot with football. So it was difficult, but it was worth it.
“In the academy they would train every day and the development of the young players (as people) was really, really good. I played with some players who play now in the Premier League, and others who didn’t make to Premier League but some other good leagues.”
Pretty much every member of the Youth Cup-winning team had to seek opportunities elsewhere, as City had just been bought by their current owners from Abu Dhabi, and filling its first team with expensive signings. So Mak went to the Bundesliga, joining FC Nuremburg and pitched straight into the first team at 19.
“I made like 80 games (in four seasons) in the Bundesliga so it was also a very good step for me,” he says. “It was really nice and I enjoyed it, we play some very good games in good stadiums, it was fantastic. At that age, you don’t realize so much these things you know, but I was playing really good games against Bayern Munich, Dortmund, against good players.”
That theme continued after Nuremburg’s relegation, spells with PAOK in Greece, Zenit and current Hungarian champions Ferencvaros producing a variety of trophies but also encounters with the elite of European football.
“In the Champions League we play teams like Barcelona and Juventus, in the Europa League too – a lot of big games,” he said. “With the national team as well, some quite big games. And I enjoyed it, I like those games.”
That’s not a surprising sentiment when those highlights include moments like scoring the winner for Zenit away to Borussia Dortmund, playing striker alongside Dimitar Berbatov for a season at PAOK (“that was really good, I scored a lot of goals that year!”) and being selected for his country’s squad at two European Championship.
Though UEFA calls it an own goal, Mak is happy to claim the goal that gave Slovakia victory over Poland at the delayed 2020, on one of the 73 caps for his country that make him the ninth-most-capped Slovakian of all time.
For now his international career is on hold, in part due to uncertainty over the identity of the coach, and Mak’s focus is on providing the spark for Sydney FC to return to being title contenders – starting with the opening ‘Big Blue’ against Melbourne Victory on Saturday night.
“I finished with Ferenvaros in Budapest, my last club, and I was waiting for the opportunity to go somewhere, when suddenly Sydney FC call me from here and they say, We are really interested in you,” said Mak.
“I was sitting with my family, my wife, and we say, Why not? It’s a good football country, you qualify for the World Cup every four years, and I spoke with (Sydney FC alumni) Filip Holosko and Karol Kisel.
“They say ‘go’, the quality of the league is good, you have good players, good stadiums and fans also. I was thinking that to play for the highest position is always interesting.
“Of course Filip and Karol won (the A-League), both of them. So yeah, now I have to do my best to win it also.
“I will do everything to do it better than last season, that was not so good for Sydney FC. So I will try to do it better and I think all the team is able to try to make the fans happy in our new stadium.
“You need to give your best to be champion.”