Club: Viktoria Plzen
After a spell with PSV’s academy, Ales Mateju returned to the Czech Republic. A contemporary of Vaclav Cerny, it was disappointing to see the teenager fail to secure a permanent move to the Netherlands. But, back home, he had the chance to continue his development with Pribram and get some first-team football under his belt at a young age.
Back at Pribram, he became something of a semi-regular fixture of the substitute’s bench at the Energon Arena. But it was on the international front where he was the most impressive. In 2014, he made twelve appearances for the Czech Republic Under-19s.
The year started with Mateju pushing his way into the Pribram first-team and it ended with the nineteen-year-old being first choice for Viktoria Plzen. Not bad, you might say.
Since returning to Pribram, the full-back was understudy to the vastly more experienced pair of Martin Sus and Fernando Neves. But with their departures over the winter break, the teenager became the de facto first-choice. Despite a very shaky showing against Sparta Prague in his full debut, he managed to make the step up from youth team to first team regular with consummate ease and became something of a driving force as Pribram mounted the unlikeliest of bids to secure European football for the 2015-16 season.
His assured performances at left-back did not go unnoticed: The papers began talking, publishing rumours that a handful of clubs were chasing his signature. In the end, though, Viktoria Plzen were the ones to move quickest and within a day of the season ending, Mateju was posing for pictures at the Doosan Arena after signing a four-year contract with the Czech champions.
Signed for the future, Mateju was initially supposed to spend his time learning from and being understudy to David Limbersky and Frantisek Rajtoral, but with European commitments the priority, the young full-back was handed his Plzen debut on the opening game of the 2015-16 season as a rotated Viktoria XI duly lost to Dukla Prague. To add insult to injury, the newspaper Dnes gave him the lowest rating of Plzen’s makeshift back four.
From there on, it seemed that he would purely be a substitute for the remainder of the year. But come November, with Plzen falling out of the Europa League and Frantisek Rajtoral suffering a complete loss of form, another opportunity, this time at right-back, arose. This time, Mateju took it with both hands.
After a strong display in successive league and cup fixtures, the nineteen-year-old retained his place for a crunch game against Mlada Boleslav. Up against the best attack in the Czech Republic, he held his own and kept the tricky duo of Ondrej Zahustel and Jiri Skalak in check all night. That trend continued into Europe and even though Plzen conspired to lose to Dinamo Minsk and traded goals with Villarreal, he emerged from each game with his reputation enhanced.
Moreover, he made the step up from the Czech Under-19s to the Czech Under-21s.
There is no certainty that Mateju will remain within Karel Krejci’s starting eleven by the time the Synot Liga resumes next month. After being on the receiving end of a rather public bollocking, Rajtoral will surely be looking to wrestle the right-back spot from the young pretender to his crown. And then there is Radim Reznik who is due to return after a year out with injury.
Then, on the left, there is David Limbersky who appears to be bulletproof – after all, not even a drink driving scandal could oust him from his left-back spot.
The worry is that Mateju finds himself as a substitute once again and only sees competitive action in meaningless dead rubbers towards the end of the season. Whilst that is a distinct possibility, he has shown that he is good enough to be a regular for a title-challenging side. One certainty is that competition during Plzen’s training camp in Turkey will be fierce.
- Posted by Chris Boothroyd
- On 10th January 2016