Midfielder Marek Sapara hopes his winter move to Turkey to join MKE Ankaragücü will help seal his place in Slovakia's FIFA World Cup squad, with the 27-year-old eager "to reach my peak, to go at full throttle".
Having started out at his hometown club MFK Košice before helping MFK Ružomberok claim their first Slovakian title in 2006, Sapara elected to go west to further his career, joining Norwegian giants Rosenborg BK. His fine shots, creativity and battling spirit helped the Trondheim club win titles in 2006 and 2009, but Sapara wanted more.
Beşiktaş JK showed a strong interest a year ago and with Rosenborg eager to recoup some of their investment in the player, he was allowed to leave this winter when Ankaragücü agreed a €2.2m fee. "We didn't want to let him go for free," conceded Rosenborg director and former Norway defender Erik Hoftun, with Sapara only having 12 months left on his contract.
The move was just what Sapara wanted. "I am very happy," he said. "I needed to change, and want to play in bigger leagues and for stronger teams. I hope this will help me get a ticket to the World Cup finals. I spoke about my transfer to the national team coach Vladimír Weiss too. He agreed it was a good move, though of course I have to play regularly."
Now back as a starter for the national team after a spell in the wilderness, Sapara impressed Weiss despite Slovakia's 1-0 friendly loss at home to Norway three weeks ago. "He played well; he knows how to play football," explained the coach. "He is able to lead the team, but the combination with Marek Hamšík in the midfield didn't work so well this time."
That is something Slovakia will look to improve as they prepare for their first World Cup finals appearance as an independent nation, while Sapara is bidding to show his best form with his new club. "Some good players have come here like Darius Vassell, Jérôme Rothen and Geremi, and Roger Lemerre is the coach," he said. "It is tough to get into the starting XI."
That, however, is the sort of challenge that Sapara thinks he needs to keep himself sharp. He is eager "to reach my peak, to go at full throttle" and with countryman Róbert Vittek now playing alongside him, Slovakia fans will hope the midfielder and striker can strike up an understanding in Ankara. "It's always better not be alone," said Sapara.