National coach Petr Rada’s sacking was the latest setback for a team beset by scandal and poor form.
By Sam Beckwith in Prague
The “Golden Generation” of Czech football suddenly seems a long time ago. Beginning when Dusan Uhrin’s unassuming team surprisingly reached the Euro 96 Final and peaking at
Euro 2004, where the dazzling football played under Karel Bruckner made the Czech Republic many people’s team of the tournament, the likes of Pavel Nedved, Karel Poborsky and Vladimir Smicer put a newly independent country on the footballing map.
Nine years later, the national team is a shadow of its former self.
The sacking of Bruckner’s successor Petr Rada, the suspension of six players embroiled in a tabloid scandal and the continued absence through injury of inspirational playmaker Tomas Rosicky have left the Czech Republic in disarray.
With the team currently fourth in World Cup qualification Group Three, five points behind leaders Northern Ireland, Rada’s successor faces a tough task making it to South Africa.
Rada’s sacking, along with that of his entire staff, became inevitable after a 0-0 draw in Slovenia, followed by a 2-1 loss at home to Slovakia four days later. After just eight games in charge – two wins, four draws, two losses – the 50-year-old goes down in history as the country’s least successful and shortest-lived national coach.
Speculation over Jarolim
Media speculation suggests that Karel Jarolim of Slavia Prague and Ivan Hasek of Dubai-based Al Ahli are the early front runners, but Jarolim has refused to discuss the situation until the domestic season is over and Hasek, a respected figure in Czech football, might prefer the position of Czech Football Association (CMFS) president – a post he tried for unsuccessfully in 2005.
Avram Grant is also reportedly interested in the job but it seems unlikely that his financial demands could be met.
With only two friendlies – against Malta and Belgium – before September’s next round of World Cup qualifiers, a permanent replacement for Rada might not be appointed until the summer, after the CMFS meets to elect a new executive on June 27.
Among the new coach’s first tasks will be deciding whether to reinstate the players expelled from the squad for partying on the night of the Slovakia defeat.
Defenders Tomas Ujfalusi and Radoslav Kovac, midfielder Marek Matejovsky and forwards Milan Baros, Martin Fenin and Vaclav Sverkos spent the night of the game at U Sevce Matouse, a pub not far from Prague Castle, where they were joined by a group of women alleged by the tabloid newspaper Blesk to be prostitutes.
Coming on the back of a damaging defeat in an always fiercely contested “federal derby”, the story was guaranteed to anger fans, officials and sponsors. To make matters worse, the scandal came two years after a similar incident, when five players – Ujfalusi among them – were photographed at the team hotel, on the night of a Euro qualification defeat by Germany, with six women also said to be prostitutes.
Ujfalusi, the team captain in Rosicky’s absence, announced his retirement from international football on the morning of the disciplinary hearing, pre-empting their decision.
Of the other five, some seem certain to be granted an early recall. Without Baros, Sverkos or Fenin, and with 36-year-old Jan Koller now retired from international football, the new coach’s striking options look particularly sparse, placing a huge responsibility on the shoulders of 19-year-old Tomas Necid.
For Kovac, an adaptable squad player who can fill in as a central defender or defensive midfielder, the future also looks reasonably bright.
Matejovsky, who played no part in the Slovakia or Slovenia games and has struggled with injury since joining Reading in England, could become surplus to requirements, especially if Rosicky returns to action any time soon.
In the wake of the scandal, some pundits have called on the new coach to build his team around the latest generation of Czech talent – such as them Necid, midfielder Jan Moravek, who will join Schalke in July, and Slavia Prague defender Marek Suchy. But, with a limited pool of players to choose from, this would be an extremely bold move.
All over for Nedved
One player who almost certainly won’t figure in the new coach’s plans is Pavel Nedved, who recently reaffirmed his decision to end his playing career at the end of the season.
The Juventus star retired from international football in 2006, but returned to the national team for the World Cup finals later that year and was almost lured out of retirement again for Euro 2008.
Despite an awkward relationship with his homeland’s media, Nedved will be remembered as one of his country’s all-time footballing greats, who, in 2003, became only the second
Czech player, after Josef Masopust in 1962, to be named European Footballer of the Year.
It still says much of Nedved that he recently finished second in the voting for the Czech Footballer of the Year awards, behind Chelsea keeper Petr Cech, and, on current form, would walk into the national team.
The Czech Republic’s current malaise merely underlines how badly he will be missed.