The second tier of Czech football returns to our television screens internet feeds this week, eight days after the Synot Liga came back to life with a double dose of amusement (see: Havránek’s error and Dukla’s floodlight failure).
Last season saw the two relegated clubs from the 2012-13 Gambrinus Liga, Ceske Budejovice and Hradec Kralove, make an immediate return to the top flight whilst MAS Taborsko were cast as Znojmo until they catastrophically crumbed on the last day of the season. Down at the bottom, two of the three Prague clubs in the division had years to forget: Loko Vltavin were expected to struggle all year and duly did; and Bohemians Prague (Strizkov not Vrsovice) looked from the outset that they fancied life in the CFL again. Luckily, Viktoria Zizkov saved the capital’s pride…
This time around we welcome two huge sides to the Narodni Liga and another minnow.
Apart from one promotion spot, working out who’ll go up, who’ll be treading water and who’ll be fighting against relegation will be notoriously tricky. It’s another the one time of the year when I’m made to look like a fool.
But here we go anyway.
Who has come down?
Sadly, the Narodni Liga welcomes back Znojmo. Their brief stay in the Gambrinus Liga was enjoyable, deserved and will be fondly be remembered for their reckless abandon, that 5-5 draw with Jablonec and that tie with Pribram. With most of their squad gutted, sold and recalled, and Leos Kalvoda hopping across the country, they are entering a period of regeneration and transformation back at their home ground after a year spent in Brno. Their new boss is Oldrich Machala, who worked wonders on a limited budget with HFK Olomouc a few years ago.
Well versed in getting the best out of a team with next to no financial aid, Machala will likely ensure Znojmo’s hangover is temporary, though they will undoubtedly miss the likes of Vlastimil Hruby, Josef Hnanicek and Vaclav Vasicek. An immediate return to the Synot Liga will come too soon for them, but an upper-mid-table finish is achievable. They rebuilding both on and off the pitch (literally) after all.
The other team to drop from the top flight is Sigma Olomouc, who’ll start the season as clear favourites to catapult back up. It was a year of disarray for Sigma last time out who failed to discover their best eleven and rife with negativity they chopped, changed and sank like a stone. Leos Kalvoda joins from Znojmo, but there hasn’t been much change to their squad who appear galvanised by their embarrassing relegation.
With former internationals Michal Ordos and Zdenek Zlamal pledging their allegiance and a squad packed with young, talented players, they should thrive and canter away with the division.
They weren’t too big to go down, but they’re certainly too big not to go straight back up.
Who has come up?
It’s hard to believe, but apparently Opava hold the record average attendance of any Czech club in the top flight (8,732 for those interested) and despite their third-tier status last season they still managed to attract crowds that would put a few Synot Liga clubs to shame. With a solid squad the Silesians should be able to hold their own at this level, but their recent history of flirting between the FNL and the MSFL decrees otherwise.
However they did pull off the signing of the summer: Fresh from a brilliant spell in the Bundesliga with Mainz, Zdenek Pospech put pen to paper on a multi-year deal with his home-town club, swapping away trips to Dortmund, Munich and Berlin for visits to Varnsdorf, Frydek-Mistek and Most.
Joining Opava in the FNL is Kolin, who after a ‘will they won’t they’ saga finally took up their due option and accepted promotion. Despite topping the CFL the Central Bohemian club initially decline their right at moving up a division, declaring that they just couldn’t afford the additional expenditure. But after everybody else turned down the invitation Kolin finally took the FACR up on their offer. The small club in the league with no real players of note, survival will be a big task.
Sigma Olomouc are the clear favourites, and if they don’t easily walk back into the Synot Liga then something catastrophic will have happened at the Andruv Stadion. Besides them, it’s a case of looking at the usual contenders for promotion and then clutching at straws to determine who the outside bet will be.
The likes of Varnsdorf, Usti nad Labem and Banik Sokolov have engrained themselves as promotion nearly men, and are likely to be there or thereabouts once more, but doubts remain whether they can get the job done both on and off the pitch.
Viktoria Zizkov will surely be eyeing their chances of a return to the top flight this time around and if they are to grace the top tier once again this has to be the season they go for it, or face another couple of years waiting for such an opportunity to present itself. With close links to Prague’s big two, except to see a number of Slavia and Sparta loanees – such as Ondrej Karafiat and Josef Bazal – to don the red and white stripes.
As for dark horses, Vlasim could be the team to spring a surprise promotion push from absolutely nowhere. Their infrastructure may be minimal, but in Vlastimil Petrzela they have a manager capable of moulding a free-flowing attacking outfit.
And you can never discount a club with a secure infrastructure, Opava could be up there.
Banik Most have pulled off the odd great escape over the years, but time could catch up with them this year – about time too given some of their performances. Yet the club have procured the services of a number of graduates from Viktoria Plzen’s academy. The quadruple of Ondrej Chocholousek, Ales Mandous, Mladen Veselinovic and Dominik Mandula, couple with Roman Wermke from Budejovice, add a guile and youth to a patchwork side that has brushed with the drop once too often.
Mid-table safety for a whole season, for once, could be attainable. If so expect them to join the likes of Trinec and Pardubice who’ll likely be treading water all year and, potentially, so will Frydek-Mistek. The club from the banks of the Ostravice did finish towards the foot of the table last season but always looked comfortable and even though they have lost top scorer Hynek Prokes to Hradec Kralove if they start well mid-table is achievable for a club of their potential stature. As for Kolin, as the smallest team in the division who have already admitted it’s going to be tough for them, relegation looks a certainty. Signing Abid Mujagic and Maros Klimpl from Teplice appear to be smart acquisitions, but there’s a strong chance that they’ll be swimming against the tide.
What about Znojmo? Well, what about them? It is unlikely that they’ll be fighting it out for promotion, sadly, and it will probably be a similar story for last season’s dark horses Taborsko. It is time for transition and rebuilding for both clubs in more than one sense. Despite doing a bit of tinkering with the playing squad both will be looking to invest time and money in improving their facilities and that could hamper their ability in the short-term.
Another side that is in transition is Zlin, but the club formerly known as Gottwaldov have been stuck in cycles for a couple of years now. Everything is there for Zlin as they have a decent stadium and a number of established players with a sprinkling of youth thrown in for good measure – yet they keep disappointing. Will this finally be the year they turn it around and live up to their potential?
Finally, there is Karvina. Their ambitions are known but it is unlikely that they’ll achieve their aim of spending some fleeting moments amongst the Czech elite. They can always dream though.
Sigma Olomouc – Clear favourites. Anything other than the title and an immediate return will be a failure
Viktoria Zizkov – This season will be the best chance many side’s have to hoist themselves up into the first division and the Prague side look well positioned to make a return to the Czech top flight.
Vlasim – With Petrzela in the dugout Vlasim have quickly become proponents of the “we’ll score one more than you” philosophy.” It’ll produce ridiculously exciting football and it might just work.
Opava – Last year I nominated Frydek-Mistek as an outside bet and they disappointed. In keeping with tradition of naming a promoted MSFL side to be dark-horses I name Opava. (Do me proud).
Frydek-Mistek – Replacing Prokes will be hard to do and without a recognised goalscorer, they could be in trouble.
Kolin – They may well be this year’s Loko Vltavin: Happy to be at this level, but not good enough to survive.
- Posted by Chris Boothroyd
- On 1st August 2014