When most British football fans picture Slovakian first division football, they might not have in mind what awaits the players at FC DAC 1904 Dunajská Streda.
A state-of-the-art training complex featuring brand-new fitness facilities and ten full size pitches, including three 3G surfaces and two with seating for almost 500 spectators used for youth matches.
On top of that, there is the redeveloped MOL Arena, which over the past three years has been upgraded to become one of the best stadiums in the country, housing more than 12,000 passionate DAC supporters at every first-team game.
There is also a multicultural atmosphere at the club as players from across the globe come together with a shared goal and where every training session is carried out in English. Those who can’t speak the language sufficiently must take two lessons a week.
During the second half of last season, three Wolves players have been on loan at the Fortuna Liga side; Connor Ronan, Daniel Csoka and Christian Herc, the latter of the trio had been living in the small town of Dunajská Streda for almost 18 months before making the switch to FC Viktoria Plzen this week.
For Ronan, the move to a club which has qualified for consecutive Europa Leagues and finished last season in the highest league position in the club’s history has rejuvenated a career which seemed to be at a crossroads, especially when he returned to Wolves in January following a disappointing few months at near neighbours Walsall.
And with Herc a regular in DAC’s midfield for the past couple of seasons – scoring six goals in his 50 appearances – Ronan playing every minute of the club’s final 11 matches of the season and Csoka being the key player in the club’s under-19 side; all three have tasted success in Slovakia.
“We develop young players here and give them a real taste of professional football,” said DAC sporting director Jan van Daele. “But we don’t want to just develop players, we want to breed winners and instigate a winning mentality into the players.
“You have seen this season with Ajax that they have played really young players and that’s similar to what we’re trying to do here. We believe developing and winning should go hand-in-hand.
“What I wanted to replicate here is a very open and easy atmosphere, where players can perform well and feel good. If they are happy off the pitch, then that will make a real difference on it.
“There are several factors to why Christian, Connor and Dan have been successful, but one of the key aspects is football philosophy. Matching up the club’s football philosophy with the right player needs to be taken into consideration when brining someone in on loan.
“I watched Connor at Walsall and last year at Portsmouth, but League One football is totally different to the football we are trying to play here. The players that Wolves Academy are producing have a lot of technical quality and maybe the lower leagues of England aren’t always best suited for those players.
“Connor is not the tallest player and he would see quite a lot of balls flying over his head in League One, but here we have a football philosophy where we build up from the back and we like to have the ball on the floor, so it’s good circumstances for technical players such as Connor.”
Head coach Peter Hyballa, who coached Borussia Dortmund’s under-19s while Jurgen Klopp was in charge of the club, has been impressed with the development of the Wolves players.
He explained: “Youth development should be at the heart of every club and it is here at a top Academy with our new facilities. The young players I’ve had have improved well and it’s because I give them stress. Some young players can’t handle this, and some young players will be better. Both Herc and Ronan have improved since they’ve been here and developed well for the next step.
“Their enjoyment of playing here benefits them not only as players, but also as humans, because it could be the first time you are away from your country, from your family and your English style.
“English players are usually reluctant to leave the country and don’t really know about what football is like away from England. Connor said to me that playing football in Slovakia was not an idea he would ever have had, especially living here in Dunajská Streda, but it has worked out very well for everyone.”
Due to the immaculate training facilities and a shared footballing philosophy at both DAC and Wolves, a stronger partnership between the two clubs is likely to play out going forwards – something which would be welcomed by Hyballa.
“For youth players making their first step, it’s better to play here than be on the bench at Wolverhampton or playing under-23 football,” he insisted. “Players like Connor Ronan must be playing football where the emphasis is on the result and the pressure of professional football.
“It has been good for Wolves to see that Connor, Christian and Daniel can play first-team football here, because if they can’t get into the first 11 at DAC then they are not good enough for Wolves and the Premier League.”
He added: “It’s been a really good project for everyone involved and I hope the partnership with Wolverhampton can continue to grow.”