Position: Central midfielder
Club: Slavia Prague
Why he’s here
The past few years have been tough for Slavia Prague as they seemingly managed to propel themselves from one crisis to another, only to drag themselves back onto the road of normality before jumping back into a ditch. Not many people have stood out during this period, but at times Jaromir Zmrhal has. Sometimes, standing out is enough to get the spotlight.
The past year has been…
…a reflection of Slavia’s sins and successes.
It’s become a cliche of mine, but I like to hold the trials and tribulations of Zmrhal up against the fortunes of Ondrej Petrak. Both rose through the Slavia youth ranks and the pair showed enough promise to suggest that they could be the clean cut future that the club desperately needed to cling onto. Enough with the vanity signings and ill-thought out purchase, these two were the duo that the future had to be built around. Yet the midfield two never really got to graduate together as Petrak was surprisingly* picked up by Nurnberg last year. Jaromir remained in Prague.
During 2014 Slavia managed to employ three managers. Those – Miroslav Koubek, Alex Pastoor and Miroslav Beranek – all have had their own wildly varying ideas, playing style and, worryingly, a say on who came and went at any one time. At one point or another every single person who put on the red and white halved shirts was in danger of being cast aside. But not Zmrhal. Whether attempting to play Total Football-lite under Pastoor; attempting shore up defensive frailties under Koubek, or reverting to a more progressive and calculated approach under Beranek, Zmrhal has done whatever has been asked of him. Needless to say, that’s quite a lot.
Over the course of the last year he has played at left-back, attacking midfield, defensive midfield, left-wing and in his favoured position of a roaming central midfield. Impressively, wherever he has been told to line up he hasn’t once look like he’s been hopelessly swimming against the tide: He’s done the right things at the right times and, even when he’s appeared to be uncomfortable in a familiar position, he’s carried on and completed the task in front of him to the best of his abilities. He might not have stood out or captured the eye and his progression may well have suffered, but it’s hardly been his fault for being an exceptionally versatile servant.
Time and time again more experienced players with bigger names have been brought in to compete for a handful of midfield places and time and time again they have been dispatched to the bench by Zmrhal. Despite the upheaval at management level, the twenty-one year-old has been ever present for Slavia throughout 2014 playing in every single league fixture during the calendar year – that’s nothing short of remarkable.
However the most influential moment came with the appointment of Miroslav Beranek. After two spells in the Prague 9 dugout, the former Kazakhstan coach was coaxed back to the Czech capital to take on the challenge once more. His reasoned sensible approach hasn’t exactly pushed Slavia back towards the title-challenging side that they should be, but he has stabilised and improved the club. Everybody looks like they’re enjoying football once again and, unsurprisingly, results and performances improved.
In the opening weeks of the Synot Liga season Beranek was leading Slavia through a honeymoon period. Slovacko were defeated, so too were Banik Ostrava and Slovan Liberec; as were Viktoria Plzen. Michal Skoda looked reborn leading the line and so too did Zmrhal who was scoring goals for fun from central midfield. Full of energy, it was easy to compare his initial displays to those of Josef Husbauer who was utilised to such devastating effect by Sparta the season before. With some kind of innate sense Zmrhal would arrive late to the attack but, crucially, in the right position and with a clear sight of goal.
But soon Slavia’s performances would drop off. Those brilliant showings put in during the opening five weeks soon gave way to inconsistent displays. After over-achieving they regressed to their mean – and so too did their number eight.
Jaromir Zmrhal has what I call the Bradley Johnson factor. Whatever side you put him in at whatever level, he’ll find a way adapt and fit in. Whether that be Barcelona, Slavia Prague or The Dog and Duck FC, he’ll have the odd spell when he is outstanding – which generally coincide when team is playing exceptionally well – and from time to time he’ll be poor. You know what you’re going to get, a solid six or seven out of ten nearly every week.
In my mind there is a future where Slavia are back fighting for European football and Zmrhal, now a consistent eight out of ten midfielder, is spearheading that charge. But before that happens he’ll have to fend off the challenge that the Georgian international Levan Kenia poses to his position, as well as some other, younger, contenders to his crown. But he’s done that before and undoubtedly he’ll do it again.
But, personally, what should be anticipated with joy is his reunion with Ondrej Petrak with the Czech Under 21s. Zmrhal is an established presence in Jakub Dovalil’s side and there’s every chance that he’ll be first choice come the tournament this summer and get to be the roaming carefree midfielder that balances Petrak’s more steely side.
The Under 21 Championships on home soil is a big stage and he’ll be against some serious competition in the middle of the park, but it is a test he can rise to.
*In hindsight the move made sense, but it was one of those transfers that grabbed attention when it was announced
- Posted by Chris Boothroyd
- On 11th January 2015