In a new regular feature, Football Italiano takes a look at some of Serie A’s greatest players and examines what makes them a cut above the rest. This week is the turn of Pavel Nedved.
A Ballon D’Or winner, three-time Scudetto Champion and Serie A Footballer of the Year – Pavel Nedved has graced Italian turf for 12 glorious years and will go down as one of the game’s true greats.
After impressing for the Czech Republic in Euro 96’, where he played a major role in helping his country reach the final, Lazio came calling offering Nedved a shot at the big time. His time in the capital was littered with trophies that included the 1999/00 Scudetto, two Coppa Italia’s and the 98/99 UEFA Cup Winners’ Cup, which saw Nedved score the winner in the final. Sven Goran Eriksson’s side was blessed with endless talent and resources as the Sky Blues had a brief spell at the top of the Italian tree, boasting the likes of Diego Simone, Alessandro Nesta, Juan Sebastian Veron and Marcelo Salas alongside Nedved. It was a short era of success and when the club plummeted into debts they were forced to sell many of their prized assets, including the Czech maestro.
His five year spell at the Biancocelesti ended when Turin giants Juventus were looking to replace the Real Madrid-bound, Zinedine Zidane. The Old Lady forked out around €41 million to get their man but seven and half years on, it certainly looks value for money as Nedved has gone on to light up the Stadio delle Alpi and gain legendary status in Turin. He followed up his impressive trophy haul from Lazio with a further two Scudetti, two Supercoppa Italia and a Serie B title. It was 2003 that proved to be Nedved’s most successful season, where he helped guide the Bianconeri to the Champions League final and although they eventually lost out on penalties to Milan, Nedved bagged the coveted Ballon D’Or, as well as the Serie A Footballer and Foreign Footballer of the Year awards. He has gone on to make the number 11 shirt his own, claiming almost 250 appearances and scoring over 50 goals.
His finest moment came as he raced down on goal to score the goal that sent the Old Lady through to the 2003 Champions League Final. The sight of the Czech winger kneeling before the Bionconari faithful, arms aloft after sending the Italian giants into the final, will live long in the memory for all those at the Stadio delle Alpi. It was a game where he had completely ripped apart the Madrid backline, though it was a bittersweet night for Nedved as moments after his goal, he picked up a booking that would rule him out of the final against Milan in Manchester. It was a final that Le Zebre went on to lose (on penalties), and many believe if Nedved had indeed played, then he might just have proved the difference in a tight game that produced 120 goaless minutes. Nedved’s creative ability was critical during Juventus’s run to the final and it was clearly missed on that drab night at Old Trafford.
Nedved is best known for his ferocious shooting and superb playmaking abilities. In addition to all his flair and creative qualities, the Czech also offers a superb amount of effort and tenaciousness. It is this that marks Nedved out as one of the best players of his generation. He was a complete footballer. So often skillful wide-men get caught out defensively, not tracking back, but Nedved’s workmanlike attitude has made him an excellent team player. He can turn a game on its head with a moment of brilliance, and in his prime would rarely be caught out as the defensive culprit at the other end of the pitch. This is the reasoning behind his nickname ‘the Horse,’ thanks to inexhaustible stamina and boundless energy as he galloped from one end of the field to the other. Despite his advancing years, he has shown no signs of slowing up and at 36 can still be seen pacing the lines.
Nedved’s role for la Vecchia Signora over the years has seen him mainly deployed on the left but he also found himself used in a free-role position behind the striker, or strikers, similar to his time at Lazio. He brings different qualities to both roles – his left wing position allows him to showcase his crossing ability, as well as his capability of skilfully beating his man in the wide areas. His quality of delivery off both feet makes him a full-back’s nightmare as he can go either way and still produce a good cross or shot. Also, his limitless energy and commitment sees him lend plenty of support to his defensive fullback, which would never go unnoticed by his teammates.
While his time spent in the role behind the front man has been scarce, it’s clear it is a position he enjoys as it gives him a lot more freedom and space to hurt the opposition. He was occasionally used in a front three formation along with Alessandro Del Piero and David Trezeguet, with the French striker the main target man and the other two interchanging positions, using their freedom to devastating effect.
The Czech national side used their star man in his usual left wing slot for most of his international career, but as he began to wind down, he played in the hole behind target man Jan Koller. It was a settled side and was largely unchanged for almost a decade as the Czech’s produced a fine era of football for their country – solidifying a top ten spot in the FIFA World Rankings. Nedved was an integral part of that side throughout the 90’s and early 2000’s with his hero status demonstrated when the country’s fans, players and Coach begged their playmaker to come out of international retirement for the Euro 2008 Championships. To which he duly rejected.
At 36, Pavel Nedved is expected to retire at the end of the current season when his contract at the Turin giants expires in the summer. But after starting a large majority of the Zebras games this season, coupled with the fact he is still playing well and scoring goals, this Serie A legend may just be around for a little longer yet. And as a spectator and fan of this great Italian league, I’m sure you’ll join me hoping this will be the case.