Pavel Vrba says emotional goodbye
5 December ~ The Football Association of the Czech Republic have got their man, but at what cost? Pavel Vrba officially began work as Czech national team coach on December 3 following an unusually emotional appointment process. As Viktoria Plzen coach, Vrba transformed a once-trophyless team into one of Czech football's major forces, leading the club to a cup win, two league titles and two Champions League campaigns since taking over in 2008. That success left his former employers understandably reluctant to release him.
Last month, announcing Vrba's impending departure, Viktoria Plzen general director Adolf Sadek couldn't hide his bitterness, explaining to journalists that the coach's decision to leave "in no way constitutes an agreement between Viktoria Plzen, coach Vrba and a third party." Instead, Vrba, who turns 50 on December 6, had taken advantage of a new release clause in his contract that reportedly allowed him to leave Plzen in return for a payment to the club of eight million crowns (roughly £240,000).
Sadek, whose relationship with Vrba had been so close that the two men's families had holidayed together, was even franker in a November 20 newspaper interview. "For Pavel, it's an opportunity but I can't say that I'm not disappointed," Sadek said to Mlada fronta Dnes. "The problem is probably that friendship doesn't belong in football. Now I wonder if we were ever friends. I understand the fans' frustration and disappointment. I feel the same way."
For Vrba, however, the appeal of the Czech national team job is obvious – he has achieved everything he realistically could at Plzen and needs a new challenge. Despite their success, Viktoria are unable to compete financially with wealthier western European opponents, and this season's Champions League campaign has underlined the limitations under which any Czech club coach must operate. Drawn against Bayern Munich, Manchester City and CSKA Moscow, Plzen are yet to win a point.
Asked to name his biggest regret, Vrba told Mlada fronta Dnes he wished that Vladimir Darida, Petr Jiracek and Vaclav Pilar – three Czech internationals now playing in the Bundesliga – had remained with Plzen. "If we were as strong as other teams in Europe, [the Champions League] would be even more interesting," he explained. "But we can hardly compete with teams from Germany. Vrba, who replaces the hapless Michal Bilek, now has a four-year contract and the
chance to work with his former players again.
Publicly at least Sadek has moved on, joining an emotional tribute to Vrba at the end of the coach's last league game in charge, but Vrba's track record, coupled with his rancorous departure from Plzen, mean much will be expected of the new national team coach. The squad that failed to qualify for the World Cup is a far cry from the star-studded Czech sides of the past, however, and fans must hope that Vrba retains his magic touch in the run-up to Euro 2016. Sam Beckwith