Wednesday August 30 2017
Happy birthday, Pavel Nedved

Today is the 45th birthday of former Juventus and Lazio midfielder Pavel Nedvěd.

A Ballon d’Or winner considered one of the finest midfielders of his generation, Nedvěd was born in Cheb in what was then Czechoslovakia on August 30, 1972.

Raised in Skalná near the border with Germany, the youngster spent his early footballing years with Tatran Skalná, Rudá Hvězda Cheb and Škoda Plzeň [now Viktoria Plzen].

As military service was required in Czechoslovakia at the time, Nedvěd was loaned to Dukla Prague, the club run by the army, and he made his senior debut in 1991 while playing for them.

Rather than returning to Plzen on the completion of his military service, Nedvěd moved to Sparta Prague, with his former club promised 30 per cent of any fee if he were to move abroad.

Naturally left-footed, the young Nedvěd worked tirelessly to improve his right foot, reportedly using only his right in training sessions to force himself to improve.

Despite three red cards early in his Sparta career, his dedication impressed Coach Jozef Jarabinský, as Nedvěd recalled in a 2003 interview with the Scotsman.

“When I was younger, there were so many guys more skilful than me. I had to work really hard to improve my skill, training harder and harder, just to be at their same level,” the midfielder said.

“If you work hard, you will have no problems with Jarabinsky. He’s just allergic to laziness.

“He was my first coach, and he explained that if I wanted to become a professional player, I had to commit myself more and more, and never be satisfied. I can remember his words.”

After scoring 19 goals in all competitions during the 1995-96 season and impressing with the Czech Republic at Euro ’96, Nedvěd began to attract interest from abroad.

It was Lazio who won the race for his signature, paying 1.2m lire to bring him to Rome - a fee of around €600,000.

The move proved controversial in his homeland, however, as Sparta initially sold Nedvěd to Slovak club FC Košice for a nominal fee.

Both clubs had the same owner, Milan Valasik, but as Košice technically made the sale to Lazio, Viktoria Plzen received only a fraction of the 30 per cent they were due from Nedvěd being sold abroad.

The Czech Federation later ruled in Plzen’s favour in a tribunal, ordering Sparta to pay 35m kc.

Nedvěd made his debut for Lazio on September 7 1996 during a 1-0 defeat at Bologna, and scored his first goal for the club against Cagliari on 20 October 1996.

He would finish the season with seven goals, but Nedvěd really game into his own in the following season.

Nicknamed ‘Furia Ceca’ or ‘The Czech Fury’, a pun on “blind fury”, the winger scored 13 goals in all competitions during the 1997-98 season as Lazio won the Coppa Italia and reached the UEFA Cup final.

The following season brought further silverware, with Lazio defeating Real Mallorca in the final of the Cup Winners’ Cup thanks to Nedvěd’s 81st minute winner.

That goal proved to be the last ever in the Cup Winners’ Cup, as the tournament was discontinued after that edition.

The 1999-2000 season brought even greater success, with the Czech playing 41 games as the Aquile completed the domestic double, pipping Juventus to the Scudetto by just a point.

A third-place finish followed in the subsequent season, but financial issues were starting to bite at Lazio, and Nedvěd’s agent, a certain Mino Raiola, decided to engineer a transfer.

“Pavel and his wife thought they were fine in Rome. I, however, realised that it was time for him to leave, that Lazio could not keep going as they had been,” Raiola told Gazzetta dello Sport in 2015.

Juventus had agreed to sell Zinedine Zidane to Real Madrid, and had identified Lazio’s star as a potential replacement.

“We had agreed to keep it a secret, but he broke the news that Pavel was in Turin,” Raiola recalled.

“We come in on the private plane and there were 40 journalists. Meanwhile, I had to convince his wife. It was July in Rome, the light was breaking through the trees, the birds were singing, it was warm. We get there [to Turin] and the people are running around in fur!”

The deal was eventually completed for a fee of around €41m.

After initially struggling to adapt, Coach Marcello Lippi moved Nedvěd into a new role behind strikers Alessandro Del Piero and David Trezeguet and the Czech Fury began to roar again.

He was instrumental in the side which secured a dramatic last-day Scudetto win in 2002, and inspired his side to the Champions League final the following season.

However, a booking in the semi-final with Real Madrid saw Nedvěd miss the game at Old Trafford and his teammates, missing his industry and invention, lost on penalties to Milan.

The Bianconeri had already secured the Scudetto, however, and Nedvěd’s form was such that he was awarded the 2003 Ballon d’Or.

After more semi-final heartache on international duty with the Czech Republic at Euro 2004 - Nedvěd went off injured against Greece, with the Czechs having been the best side at the tournament up to that point - another two Scudetti arrived under Fabio Capello in 2005 and 2006.

There was a storm on the horizon though, and both titles were revoked in the Calciopoli scandal which saw Juve relegated to Serie B.

Nedvěd, along with Trezeguet, Del Piero, Gianluigi Buffon and Mauro Camoranesi opted to remain with the Old Lady, scoring 11 goals in the second tier to win immediate promotion.

He spent a further two years with Juve before retiring at the end of the 2008-09 season - though not before a call from Jose Mourinho looking to take him to Inter.

“Jose struck a chord,” Nedvěd admitted, speaking to Idnes last year.

“He knew I was very attracted to the Champions League, because I’d never won it. But it couldn’t work, how could we be compatible? Not at all!

“If he’d called me from anywhere else in the world I’d have gone to him, but I couldn’t go to Inter.”

Nedvěd instead took up a directorship role in Turin, working alongside general manager Giuseppe Marotta.

In 2015 he was elected by shareholders as vice-President, a role he holds with the Old Lady to this day.

Pavel Nedvěd

Games: 642
Goals: 141
International caps: 91
Goals: 18
Honours: Serie A [1999-2000, 2001-02, 2002-03, 2004-05*, 2005-06*], Cup Winners' Cup [1998–99], Coppa Italia [1998, 2000] Serie B [2006–07], Czechoslovak First League [1992–93], Czech Republic Football League [1993–94, 1994–95], Czech Cup [1996], Ballon d'Or [2003]

*Revoked due to the Calciopoli scandal

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