The second half of the Czech League kicks off this weekend with the top clubs again forced to cope with the departure of key players in the transfer window.
By Sam Beckwith in Prague
League leaders Slavia Prague go into the spring section of the Season facing one of the harsh economic realities of Czech football – that every six months many of your best players will leave during the transfer window.
Unable to match the salaries or ambition of their western European neighbours, the Czech League’s top teams have done a surprisingly good job of patching their teams back together following these exoduses.
Relative to its size, the Czech Republic remains a prodigious producer of young footballing talent but following the failure this season of any Czech club to reach the Champions League’s group phase, or to progress to the UEFA Cup’s knockout rounds, there are concerns that the bottom of the barrel may be in sight.
In the past 18 months, Slavia have seen a turnover of around 30 players, including the sale of Czech international Stanislav Vlcek to Anderlecht, midfielder Lukas Jarolim to Siena and striker Pavel Fort to Toulouse.
“I don’t know whether that’s a lot or a little but I think the transfers have paid off for us,” Slavia chairman Petr Dolezal told the Mlada fronta Dnes newspaper in February, pointing out that his club won the League and reached the Champions League’s group phase last season.
The January transfer window has seen another flurry of activity. Along with the League’s leading scorer, 19-year-old Tomas Necid, who joined CSKA Moscow in a deal arranged over the summer, Slavia lost three key defensive players in January. Skilful Slovak wingback Matej Krajcik joined Reggina; defensive midfielder Mickael Tavares – picked up from
French side Tours in 2007 – was sold to Hamburg for a handsome profit; and former Birmingham City defender Martin Latka moved to Greek side Panionios.
Following the latest departures, Slavia have, as usual, looked to their smaller domestic rivals for replacements, bringing Petr Trapp in from Viktoria Plzen as a replacement for Tavares and signing defender Josef Kaufman from Teplice to take Krajcik’s role. Less predictably, Slavia have also signed Brazilian defender James Dens from J.Malucelli and brought in out-of-contract Latvian goalkeeper Deniss Romanovs as a back-up for regular starter Martin Vaniak.
As a replacement for Necid, Slavia have looked to the past, re-signing another tall 19-year-old, Tomas Pekhart, from Tottenham Hotspur, and bringing Fort back on loan from Toulouse. Ales Besta, signed from Brno, is another option up front.
As well as integrating the new players, coach Karel Jarolim must also deal with several injuries as the spring gets underway. With central defenders Marek Suchy and David Hubacek both struggling for fitness and new signing Kaufman requiring a meniscus operation, a defence significantly weakened during the transfer window was left looking particularly threadbare as the restart approached.
Perhaps Jarolim’s only consolation is the knowledge that his main title rivals face similar problems.
Second-placed Mlada Boleslav, who ended the autumn six points behind Slavia, will be without key midfielder Jan Rajnoch in the spring, following the 27-year-old’s departure for German side Energie Cottbus. As a replacement for Rajnoch, whose strong performances earned him his first call-up to the Czech national team last August, Boleslav have signed youngster Ondrej Kudela from Sparta Prague.
Third-placed Banik Ostrava also lost their biggest star in January’s transfer window, selling Czech international striker Vaclav Sverkos to French side Sochaux, and will also be without veteran defensive midfielder Tomas Galasek, who has joined Borussia Monchengladbach.
The upheaval at Sparta has largely been the result of new coach Jozef Chovanec wielding the axe after a disappointing autumn, but while midfielder Petr Vorisek’s loan move to Austrian side Altach and forward Libor Dosek’s departure to Greek club Skoda Xanthi are part of the clean-out, striker Miroslav Slepicka’s move to Dinamo Zagreb will be more keenly felt.
Elsewhere, star Teplice forward Tomas Jun is also leaving the League, joining Vorisek at Altach and a trend for Western clubs snapping up promising Czech teenagers has also continued, with 18-year-old defender Milan Misun joining Celtic from Pribram after making just a handful of first-division appearances.