Saturday, September 10, 2005

Czech-ing out the Republic

In part 4 of my global interview series, we visit the Czech Republic and interview Sam Beckwith.

Sam hosts a Yahoo news group dedicated to Czech football. My thanks for participating.

FC: What are the football leagues like in the Czech Republic and how do you rate the quality of the football?

SB: There's a 16-team first division (the Gambrinus Liga) and a 16-team second-division, plus regional leagues below that.

Historically, the two big Prague teams - Sparta Praha and Slavia Praha - have dominated, but Sparta are pretty much in a league of their own these days.

Slovan Liberec and Banik Ostrava have both won the league in the last few years, and Teplice are another big club.

Crowds at Gambrinus Liga games are usually small and there isn't a lot of money around but the standard of play is generally quite good.

I'd say the Czech first division - the Gambrinus Liga - is one of the 10 best in Europe, but a long way behind the English, Spanish, Italian, German and French leagues. (UEFA, in fact, currently rank the Czech league ninth in Europe.)

FC: What countries do players come from to play in the Czech league?

SB: The Czech league isn't very diverse, mainly because there isn't a lot of money to bring in foreign players. Most of the "foreign" players are from over the border in Slovakia.

At the end of the season, for instance, Gol magazine gives an award to the best foreign player in the Czech league. This time around, seven of the top eight were Slovaks.

Apart from Slovaks, there are a handful of Brazilians, a few players from Ukraine and the former Yugoslavia and, oddly, a Frenchman or two.

Generally, though, the league is dominated by Czech players.

FC: The Czech national side is littered with stars we know about, but what about in the Czech Republic, what players are we going to be seeing in bigger leagues?

SB: Talented Czech players tend to be younger and younger when they move abroad these days, so Czech fans sometimes don't get to see the stars of tomorrow. For example, Jaroslav Plasil, who sometimes plays for the national team, joined Monaco when he was 17, after playing just four games for Hradec Kralove's B team.

Tomas Jun, who moved from Sparta Praha to Trabzonspor at the beginning of this season looks like he's going to make a name for himself. He's only 22, he was the Gambrinus Liga's leading scorer last season and he's already a regular member of the national team squad.

Other names to look out for are Sparta midfielder Tomas Sivok, Sigma Olomouc defender Roman Hubnik, and Slavia defender Martin Latka.

FC: Who are your top 5 Czech players at the moment?

SB: My top five Czech players playing in the Czech Republic:

1st Karel Poborsky (Sparta)
2nd Lukas Zelenka (Sparta)
3rd Patrik Gedeon (Slavia)
4th Jaromir Blazek (Sparta)
5th Karel Pitak (Slavia)

My top five Czech players playing abroad:

1st Petr Cech (Chelsea, England)
2nd Pavel Nedved (Juventus, Italy)
3rd Tomas Rosicky (Borussia Dortmund, Germany)
4th Marek Jankulovski (AC Milan, Italy)
5th Milan Baros (Aston Villa, England)

FC: How well are the football leagues supported in Czech Republic? What foreign leagues do you watch?

SB: Gambrinus Liga crowds are often disappointingly small, and the atmosphere at games suffers as a result. The average attendance last season, for instance, dropped to 3,840.

Partly that's because fans were angry about the match-fixing scandals that have hit Czech football over the past couple of seasons, but since the end of Communism, in 1989, many Czech fans seem to have lost interest in domestic football.

Many of the best players have moved abroad, and, since the Czech and Slovak leagues split, some famous rivalries - Sparta Praha vs. Slovan Bratislava, for instance - have disappeared.

Also, because they're easily the richest club, Sparta have become increasingly dominant, which can make things a bit boring. In the last 10 seasons, Sparta have won the league title eight times.

I'm English myself, so maybe I'm biased, but I think the Premiership is the most popular foreign league here. There's a lot of English football on cable TV here. We get a few German stations too, and Eurosport.

FC: I rate Peter Cech the best keeper in the world, where did he play before France and Chelsea? What else do you know about him?

SB: He really is an amazing goalie: Petr Cech is originally from the city of Plzen but he began his professional career in Blsany, a village with a population of around 300 that somehow supports a first-division football team.

After breaking into Chmel Blsany's first team, at the age of 17, Cech joined Sparta Praha and, surprisingly, became the first-choice keeper there. Amazingly, Cech then broke the Czech record for the number of consecutive minutes a goalkeeper had gone without conceding a goal.

In May 2002, Cech was the goalkeeper when the Czech Republic won the European Under-21 Championship, and in July 2002 - still only 20 - he joined Rennes in France. Not long after that, he became the first-choice keeper for the full Czech national side.

Please email if you'd like to conduct an interview (over email) or if you know the name of a weblog in your country.


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Anonymous Anonymous said...

great interview

9/11/2005 5:03 PM  

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