Name: Stanislav Varga
POB: Lipany, Czechoslovakia
Clubs: 1. FC Tatran Prešov, Slovan Bratislava, Sunderland, West Bromich Albion, Celtic, Burnley
International caps: 54 (for Slovakia)
Varga, perhaps more than any other player, epitomised Celtic during
the Martin O’Neill era. His career reached new heights after a difficult period and saw his value raised considerably; he would dominate opponents
with size and strength, was always an aerial threat from set-pieces and possessed an under-appreciated ability with the football. He was also
excellent for a period when the club brushed aside all on the domestic front and suffered hard-luck stories on the continent.
defender played at Celtic Park for three-and-a-half seasons, but his noted contribution can be condensed into two. He originally arrived on
trial with Croatian Milan Rapaic during January of 2003. Varga had just been released by Sunderland where he had failed to
command a regular starting role in a side that would break
records in ineptitude on their way to Premier League relegation. It
was quite a fall for the Slovakian internationalist who had performed
excellently in his Black Cats debut back in 2000, helping the team to
a 1-0 win over Arsenal – a display that would live long in the
memory of any Sunderland supporter who witnessed it. The next match
against Manchester City he suffered a knee injury which almost cost
him his leg after complications led to blood clotting.
he returned to full fitness albeit with the momentum from the
sparkling debut lost to history. He never quite recaptured that form
and found his new role to be a limited back-up player. He did,
however, score his first goal in a 2-0 away win to West Ham in
January of his debut season; starting a trend of headed
goals from set-pieces by the towering defender.
initial half season at Celtic Park didn’t bring much more in the way
of first-team opportunities than the situation he had just left in
England’s North East. The second Scottish Cup humiliation at the
hands of (then lower league) Inverness CT was far from the perfect
introduction but he was given a surprising reprieve when picked for
the final league match meeting with Kilmarnock. Both Rangers and Celtic were
battling for the title and it appeared certain the winner would
emerge victorious through goal difference. Varga’s abilities from
set-pieces must have persuaded O’Neill to bring him in from the wilderness. Celtic did their part, winning 4-0, only to see Rangers romp to a 6-1 home
win over Dunfermline and take the title.
played twice in four months few envisioned the centre back having his contract renewed. O’Neill had other ideas. He had spotted raw talent in
his new centre-back and set about moulding him into a dependable
back-up for the approaching 2003/04 campaign. Varga defied British stereotypes concerning his height by proving to be comfortable with the
ball at his feet. He
could easily knock 70-yard diagonal balls in the path of Celtic
attackers; a commendable trait but not the main attribute that his
manager was looking for. At 6ft 5in, O’Neill wanted the player to fit
in with the British game and use his height to dominate aerial challenges. Confident this could be done, the manager rewarded the player
with a one-year extension with a further year that would become
automatic once he made a certain number of appearances.
took to the new season with a renewed sense of self-belief and
a different mentality in which to approach each game. The coming-of-age match in
his Celtic career occurred at Ibrox in the first Old Firm derby of
the season. The visitors won 1-0 thanks to John Hartson’s deflected
goal and Varga was showered with praise afterwards for his solid
display featuring alongside Chris Sutton in a heavily depleted and
makeshift defensive unit. He didn’t look back from there; scoring his
first goal in a 5-0 demolishing of Hearts in the next fixture and
being a mainstay of the team until the closing stages of the season.
In between he earned a recall to the Slovakian national side for the
first time in three years, scored a double against Partick Thistle
and performed well in another couple of derby wins – knocking Rangers
out of the Scottish Cup and defeating them 3-0 in the New Years Day
league title was won long before a 1-0 win at Kilmarnock made it academic. Their European run had been fairly successful
also. Denied a route to the last sixteen of the Champions League by a
late goal away at Lyon, they defeated Barcelona over two legs to
reach the Quarter-finals of the UEFA Cup. Varga was once again a
towering presence in a depleted defence on a night where a 19-year
old David Marshall was the hero, continually thwarting the Catalans to
claim a progress clinching 0-0 draw.
next season did not proceed in the same victorious manner for both
player and club. Celtic leaked goals early in the campaign as the
lack of pace in the Varga and Bobo Balde partnership was continually
exploited by the opposition. The Slovakian did score the most
memorable goal of his career when he equalised against Milan in the
San Siro, but he would later be caught out of position when Pipo
Inzaghi put the hosts back in front in the 89th
The club appeared to be heading for another title
until the final day when Scott McDonald broke Celtic hearts by
scoring a late double which gifted the championship to Rangers. Varga had
headed the ball away in the build up to the equaliser but Celtic
couldn’t clear their lines and when the ball was knocked back in
McDonald was allowed to hook it into the top corner. The second goal
was academic, a draw would not have been good enough. O’Neill later announced that it been his last season as Celtic manager and he
was replaced by Gordon Strachan, a change that would prove to be the
beginning of the end for Varga’s time in Glasgow.
centre-back partnership of Balde and Varga was so
O’Neill that it was a surprise Strachan didn’t promptly jettison one
of the pair before Celtic’s horrific start to the 2005/06 campaign.
Incredibly, one player he did sell was Jackie McNamara. The
midfielder had long been the cover for the lumbering Parkhead
centre-backs and his absence was keenly felt during the 5-0 defeat in
Bratislava and 4-4 SPL Opening Day draw with Motherwell. What didn’t
help matters was the new Celtic boss’s insistence on pushing both
full-backs high up the park. He obviously wanted to immediately set
out his blueprint for the manner in which the side would play, but
the club may have stayed in Europe that season if he’d adapted to the
players at his disposal. Regardless, Varga was out after the
Motherwell fiasco – a match where the hosts scored three
close-range headers despite the supposedly dominant pairing – and
didn’t feature again until January.
featuring in January was Roy Keane, signed after his release by
Manchester United. The Irishman stayed until the summer where he
decided to retire from football and make himself available for a
route into management. Sunderland quickly came calling and gave Keane
a seemingly endless budget to strengthen the team. He returned to the
last port of call from his playing days and brought back Ross Wallace
and Varga in a transfer totalling £1.1million.
more the defender was at The Stadium of Light in a mainly back-up
role watching on as Sunderland rocketed to the top of the
Championship and an immediate return to the Premier League. He went
on loan to Burnley the following season before deciding to retire.
is he now? Stan is back in his native Slovakia on the coaching staff
of 1. FC Tatran Prešov. This is the same side he started his career
with back in 1992 and actually played against Dundee United in the
Cup-Winners Cup in 1994. The Slovaks lost the first leg 3-2 in Dundee
but won the replay 3-1 to advance to the next round. Varga recently
became the head coach of the club’s ‘junior’ team.
Similar Articles: Harald Brattbakk, Paul Telfer
Show: Cutting Instinct/Killer Edge
If you’d like to add any memories from the career of Stan Varga then please make yourself known in the comments sections or find us on Twitter.
If you’ve enjoyed the blogs then make sure to check out the podcast. The latest episode was called Cutting Instinct/Killer Edge.