Born: 30 August 1972 in Cheb (Czech Republic)
Career as a player: 1991-1992: Dukla Prague (Czechoslovakia). 1992-1996: Sparta Prague (Czech Republic). 1996-2001: Lazio (Italy). Since 2001: Juventus (Italy).
Honors as a player: Czech league champion (1993, 1994, 1995). Czech cup winner (1996). Italian league champion (2000, 2002, 2003). Italian cup winner (1998, 2000). Italian super cup winner (1998, 2000, 2002, 2003). UEFA Cup Winners’ Cup winner (1999). UEFA Super Cup winner (1999). European Player of the Year (2003). 91 caps for the Czech Republic, 18 goals.
Miscellaneous: Nedved is a family man. At 21, he married his childhood sweetheart, Ivana. The couple have a daughter, Ivana, and a son, Pavel. Nedved says: “For me there is only football and my family. I don’t need anything else.”
Rocket, cannon, horse and teddy bear
For more than a decade, Pavel Nedved was widely been recognized as one of the best players in the world and one of the most loyal, too, as he proved by remaining with Juventus following their enforced relegation last year. Now, Juventus and Nedved are back, and the Czech midfielder is dreaming about winning the UEFA Champions League in the not too distant future.
When a man has lots of nicknames, it suggests that people do not quite know how to pin him down. Juventus midfielder Pavel Nedved is known variously as “the rocket”, “the Czech cannon”, “the running man”, “the horse”, “the teddy bear” and by the brand name of a long-lasting battery. The myriad epithets reflect the many strengths of the 34-year-old Czech, who has been one of the world’s best players for over 10 years.
Few players can shoot so powerfully with both feet. Coaches teach their defenders to show the attacker on to his weaker foot but against Nedved that advice is worthless because he does not have one. Fewer players still can match his phenomenal work rate and tireless running.
To those qualities can be added close control, vision and a fierce will to win, all of which have helped him to stock his trophy cabinet with league championship medals at three different clubs and a European Player of the Year award.
After a season in Italy’s second division, Serie B, another attribute must be added to the list: loyalty. In the wake of the match-fixing scandal for which Juventus were relegated and handed a nine-point penalty, Juventus players Fabio Cannavaro, Gianluca Zambrotta and Lilian Thuram were easily seduced by the attractions of Spanish football. Nedved remained faithful to the Old lady of Turin.
The player was not short of offers with Manchester United, Chelsea and Monaco all making advances. As Nedved explained last summer: “I was contracted by Chelsea and I would have earned a lot of money but something didn’t convince me. I have another year to run on my contract and I will honor it.”
Nedved’s reasons for staying were a mixture of football, family and a sense of duty to the Agnelli family, who own Juventus. “Monaco is a wonderful place to live but I would not have found the same motivation in the French league. And why uproot my family for the sake of one or two seasons? I have to help Juventus. I feel a debt to the Agnelli family, who have always taken care of me.”
Nedved’s presence this season was one of the biggest factors in Juventus bouncing straight back to Serie A, as his coach, Didier Deschamps, was quick to point out: “His quality as a player and what he adds to this team are immeasurable. He gives us not only a tactical advantage but a psychological one as well. It’s a different team when he’s on the field.”
Sadness and joy
Nedved was born in August 1972 in the village of Skalna, outside the town of Cheb, near Prague. His parents, Vaclav and Ana, wanted him to become an accountant but the football bug had already bitten hard in the years Nedved played junior football for Skalna and Cheb.
At 19 he made his debut for Dukla Prague and the following season was recruited by rivals Sparta, where he won three consecutive league titles between 1993 and 1995. After impressing in the Czech Republic’s run to the final of EURO 96, Nedved was signed by Lazio, where he spent five successful years. In 2001, Juventus paid him the ultimate compliment by choosing him to replace Real Madrid-bound French genius Zinedine Zidane, paying Lazio EUR 40 million.
In his career, Nedved has experienced the full range of emotions, from ecstasy to despair. In 2003, he powered Juventus to the final of the UEFA Champions League against AC Milan, only to be suspended for the match after picking up a yellow card against Real Madrid in the semi-final. Upon the final whistle against Real he fell to his knees in tears. His consolation that year was becoming the first Czech since Josef Masopust in 1962 to win the European Player of the Year award.
A semi-final the following year, at EURO 2004, brought further bad luck when Nedved damaged his knee against Greece, an injury which prompted him to announce his retirement from international football. Once again he bounced back. His appetite for the game got the better of him and he came out of retirement to captain the Czechs to play-off victory over Norway in November 2005, guaranteeing the Czech Republic a place in the 2006 FIFA World Cup TM in Germany. At the final whistle in the second leg of that play-off, Nedved again fell to his knees, this time overcome with joy.
The euphoria turned to frustration when Karel Bruckner’s side did not progress past a strong group containing Italy, Ghana and the USA. Nedved gave everything in the decisive match against Italy but could not find a way past goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon, his Juventus team-mate. Glenn Moore wrote in British newspaper ?The Indipendant’: “All the Czechs’ threat came from Nedved, who played like a man possessed. If he was the player the Czechs looked to for inspiration, he was also the man Italy worried about. Nedved etched his quality on the game. If it is to be his farewell, it was a noble one.”
“I get frustrated”
Nedved’s farewell from international football arrived six weeks later, following a 3-1 defeat in a friendly match against Serbia. He had amassed 91 caps, scoring 18 goals. Such highs and walls are the stuff of football few footballers, however, have had to come to terms with winning consecutive league championships, only to see the titles stripped from their club. Juventus won the Scudetto in 2005 and 2006 but after the Calciopoli scandal the 2006 title was awarded to Inter, with the 2005 title not being assigned at all.
Nedved was bitter, arguing that Juventus was the only club punished with relegation for what were widespread practices in Italian football. He had mixed feelings about those team-mates who did not stay to help the club. “I respect the choice of the players who went elsewhere. Everybody is free to think how they want. As for Zlatan Ibrahimovic, it hurts me to see him play in another shirt which has the Scudetto sewn on it.” Ibrahimovic had left Juventus for newly crowned “champions” Inter.
At the time of going to press, Juventus looked set to win Serie B by a wide margin. But it had been a long, tough season. “I get frustrated,” Nedved said, “because in Serie B it’s a game of kicking, not of football. It was hard to get used to. We have no longer have the Juventus of last year, which was, in my opinion, the strongest team in Europe.”
Champions league dreams
Looking ahead to the first season back in Serie A, Nedved says that it is vital for the club to be clear about its objectives. “If we’re fighting for fourth place, we can approach the transfer market in one way. But if we want to win the title, then we have to strengthen the team a hell of a lot. A great, great team was dismantled here and it won’t be easy to rebuild.”
Nedved’s plans to set up a football academy in the Czech Republic upon retirement might have to wait. His unfulfilled ambition to lift what he calls “the cup with the big years” – the UEFA Champions League Trophy – might yet see the pocket dynamo playing for Juventus beyond 2008, and no doubt earning a few more nicknames along the way.