Sunday 12 April ~
The sacking of national team coach Petr Rada and the ejection of six players from his squad have made headlines around the world. For anyone familiar with Czech football, however, there's something depressingly predictable about both aspects of the current crisis. The coach's dismissal, after just eight games in charge, has merely strengthened the perception of Rada as a Steve McClaren-like figure who, although he looked the part and said the right sort of things, wasn't actually qualified for the job.
Appointed after Euro 2008, Rada had been a surprise choice, despite spending two years as Karel Bruckner's assistant and enjoying a promising career as club coach. Unimpressed by Rada's selection, critics in the media pointed to his lack of experience and trophies and predicted the worst. By the time an uninspired 0-0 draw away to Slovenia and an embarrassing 2-1 loss at home to "little brother" Slovakia had cost the diminutive 50-year-old his job, these fears seemed to be justified.
In fairness, bad luck played a big part in Rada's downfall. With the likes of Pavel Nedved, Karel Poborsky, Vladimir Smicer and Jan Koller out of the picture, he had inherited a squad in steady decline, and Tomas Rosicky's unexpectedly prolonged absence had robbed him of the team's creative hub. A conservative approach and an unwillingness to experiment have added to Rada's problems, though, and with Reading playmaker Marek Matejovsky struggling to regain his best form, no other alternative to Rosicky seems to have been considered.
The pool of players Rada inherited must also share the blame, many of them seemingly more comfortable enjoying the fruits of celebrity off the pitch than representing their country on it. The circumstances in which Matejovsky, defenders Tomas Ujfalusi and Radoslav Kovac, and forwards Milan Baros, Martin Fenin and Vaclav Sverkos were expelled from the national team conjure up an uncanny sense of déjà vu.
Back in March 2007, on the night of a home defeat to Germany in a Euro 2008 qualifier, five Czech players – team captain Rosicky, Ujfalusi, Jan Polak, Martin Jiranek and Marek Cech – were photographed drinking in the team hotel with women widely reported to be prostitutes. A media scandal followed, prompting Bruckner to consider resignation and nearly derailing the Czech Republic's Euro qualifying campaign.
Two years on, Ujfalusi and his five team-mates went on a boozy night out at a restaurant, at the end of which Fenin and Matejovsky were photographed with women who, depending on whose version of events you believe, may or may not have been prostitutes. Taken in isolation, it was no great crime – according to Ujfalusi, the players had already been released from the national team camp – but coming so soon after the previous scandal, on the night of another poor performance in another important qualifier, perception was everything. In the grip of another scandal, with sponsors threatening to abandon the national team, the association was forced to act. Ujfalusi, who had captained the team in Rosicky's absence, jumped before he was pushed, announcing his retirement from international football before the football association banned him.
For the remaining five, the punishment could turn out to be relatively light. With a decision on their reinstatement being left to Rada's successor, they could be back in the squad in time for the Czech Republic's next World Cup qualifier, in September. Don't be too surprised if we're here again in another couple of years. Sam Beckwith