Club: Sparta Prague
Like many of Sparta Prague’s home-grown players, Aleš Čermák first rose to attention away from the Generali Arena.
Initially, the adaptable attacking midfielder was sent out on loan to Hradec Králové. Despite lining up in a limited side, Čermák showed clear signs of progression during his stay at the Všesportovní stadion and was one of the team’s better players during the second-half of their ill-fated 2014-15 season.
Ahead of the 2015-16 campaign, he was again sent out on loan, this time to Mladá Boleslav. Here, his versatility was exploited and he was used in pretty much every midfield position imaginable. But no matter where he was deployed, he performed at a consistent level and developed a knack for producing the goods at key moments.
However, he often operated in the shadows. It was Jiří Skalák and Ondřej Zahustel, who received the plaudits, the attention and the big money offers. But with those two departing to Brighton and Sparta Prague respectively in early 2016, Čermák was given the chance to step up and become the main creative influence for his club side, mirroring his role for the Czech Under-21s.
It hasn’t been a bad year for Čermák. Actually, come to think of it, let’s scrap that: It’s been a very good twelve months for the attacking midfielder.
He continued to be a pivotal figure for the Czech Under-21s, driving the side towards the top of their qualifying group with a run of four goals in five games; he enjoyed an exceptional start to the calendar year with Mladá Boleslav, before returning to Sparta where would appear in both the Champions League and Europa League.
However, for all these positives, there’s a lingering sense that 2016 could have been so much better for the 22-year-old who had to contend with the problems and pressures associated with being a relative youngster tasked with findings his feet during Zdeněk Ščasný’s tumultuous last few months at Letná.
Towards the end of his reign at Sparta, Ščasný became known for a scattergun approach to team selection. Admittedly, some of the numerous changes that he made were enforced, but many appeared to be the result of wanton tactical tinkering and a desire to throw people under the proverbial bus. Čermák, unfortunately, was one of those who suffered the most as the midfielder was substituted at half-time in successive league games, seemingly shattering his confidence.
When questioned about his constant chopping and changing, Ščasný generally responded in a terse manner, laying the blame firmly on certain players who were not performing to a certain standard. This thinly veiled dig at those who had been shunted to the sidelines did little to appease anybody and only heightened tensions between the fans and the manager.
Sparta, being the biggest football club in the Czech Republic, is a sink or swim environment. The pressures on those who pull on the dark red jerseys are unlike that at any other club; failure is not an option. Historically, Sparta’s best managers have been those who have been able to coax the best out of young talent and help them mature both on and off the pitch.
A more accommodating manager might have opted to use the carrot instead of the stick, but not Ščasný. And as the weeks progressed, with more players brought in and out of the squad due to, a collective ambivalence took hold. Fringe players stopped caring and the big names began to coast and it’s painfully obvious that Čermák’s slow start to life back at Sparta wasn’t solely his own making.
Ščasný eventually left and was replaced by David Holoubek, Sparta’s long-serving and much-loved youth coach. Sadly for Čermák, he joined Sparta’s very long injury list shortly after Holoubek’s appointment and has only returned to action briefly before winter arrived.
Presuming that Sparta continue to play 4-2-3-1/4-3-3 under new head coach Tomáš Požár, it’s hard to see where the 22-year-old fits in. Presuming that everybody is fully fit at the start of February, Čermák has Bořek Dočkal, Tomáš Rosický, Néstor Albiach, Václav Kadlec, Josef Šural and Daniel Holzer to contend with. And if Tiémoko Konaté is brought back into the first-team picture and if Ondřej Zahustel is pushed forward once more, then he has two more stellar players to contend with. And before you ask; yes, Sparta’s competition for places is borderline farcical.
Given that he can play anywhere with ease, his versatility is useful and that may see him fight his way onto the substitute’s bench at Sparta – but getting regular playing time will be extremely tough. Because of this, it might be in everybody’s best interest for Čermák to spread his wings once more.
That isn’t because Čermák is a bad footballer- far from it in fact. He has a good range of passing, isn’t especially quick but can gracefully move past defenders and leave them chasing shadows, can cross a ball and has an eye for goal. Basically, imagine Bořek Dočkal but six years younger.
He just needs to play and play and play.
- Posted by Chris Boothroyd
- On 20th January 2017