Much like Finland, the Czech Republic is noted for being the home of many Hockey greats, while football largely takes a backseat. Despite it being second in terms of popularity, the Bohemian nation has given us a select few who have graced the bigger stage in the beautiful game. Everyone knows the reputations of Petr Cech and Tomas Ricky, but the likes of Karel Poborsky, Jan Koller, Milan Baros and Vladimir Smicer also reached the highest level of club football.
Despite Cech’s achievements and easily being considered one of the best keepers in Europe for the vast majority of his career, there’s one other Czech who can boast without question that he was one of the best players on the planet during his heyday – Pavel Nedved.
Born in the small town of Cheb, situated along the Ohre River and close to the nations western border with Germany, Nedved lived and breathed football from the earliest possible years. Raised in the nearby town of Skalna, it is here where he began his footballing education, with the hometown club TJ Skalna at the age of 5 in 1977. At the age of 13 he would briefly move to RH Cheg before a four-year spell at Skoda Pizen followed. In 1990, now aged 18, Nedved was loaned Dukla Prague as part of his mandatory military service as the Army ran Dukla. Despite spending the final year of his youth career on loan to Dukla Tabor (also run by the Army), he would make his senior debut for Prague in 1991, where he played one full season and scored 3 goals in 19 appearances. When his military service reached completion, his loan spell at Dukla also came to a conclusion, and this opened the door for him to move to what is now the Czech Republic’s most storied club, Sparta Prague.
It was in the capital where Nedved began to carve out a reputation for himself, featuring proximately in his first two years with the club and earning his first full cap for his nation in 1994. By 1996, Nedved had bagged 28 goals in 116 appearances for Sparta in all competitions, as well as three league titles and one domestic cup triumph. His performances that summer at Euro ’96 draw major attention form European clubs, and despite having verbally agreed to move to Dutch giants PSV Eindhoven, the would end up moving to Serie A side Lazio – it was this move, to the top of the footballing ladder, that would set Nedved on a collision course with superstardom.
Nedved would call Rome home for five seasons while with the I Biancazzurri, where he would carve out a talismanic figure for himself. Under his influence, along with the likes of Sinisa Mihajlovic, Marcelo Salas, Diego Simeone, Alessandro Nesta, Sergio Conceicao, Dejan Stankovic and Juan Sebastian Veron, Lazio established themselves as a force both domestically and on the continent. By 2001 he had bagged a Serie A title, two Coppa Italia trophies, two Italian Super Cups, a UEFA Cup Winners Up and a UEFA Super Cup. His success in the “City of the Seven Hills” did not go unnoticed, and when Juventus came in with an offer, Nedved answered the old ladies call.
Additional, and even greater success in Turin was to follow, as Nedved went on to star for one of the worlds biggest clubs. Two more Serie A titles would follow (’01-’02, 02’-’03), as well as two Italian Super Cups and an appearance in the Champions League final. Even though Nedved was involved in the Calciopoli scandal that saw Juve relegated to Serie B, it was his personal accomplishments for the club that truly made his reputation as a player untouchable. 2003 would be the absolute pinnacle of his career, as he went on to collect Serie A Footballer of the Year, Serie A Foreign Footballer of the Year, UEFA Club Best Midfielder of the Year, World Soccer Awards Player of the Year, his first UEFA Team of the Year nomination and, most importantly, the Ballon d’Or. The following year would see him win the second ever Golden Foot award as well as being nominated by Pele into the FIFA 100.
Though the personal accolades and club achievements dried up, Nedved still featured prominently for the club up till his retirement from football in 2009. He would end up 9 shy of 100 appearances for the Czech Republic, but logged over 640 at club level during the course of his distinguished career.
With Petr Cech winding down on his own storied career, it is quite likely that another Czech player will reach the height of accomplishment of Nedved and his contemporaries. And though all nations are meant to leave their mark on football consistently, but if the buck stops at Pavel Nedved, there is no better way for a nation to leave it’s personal seal on the beautiful game than with a player who transcended both style and grace.
Oh…and that fabulous hair…
Remember to check back in each Friday as we induct another great into the Robin Friday Hipster Hall of Fame. Thank you to Hipster Drew @AFCBvB1410 for this contribution.