The perfect storm may have gifted Sparta Prague the opportunity to claim their first domestic honour in four years, but the style in which they sauntered through to the Gambrinus Liga crown was so domineering it really should have been set to the Imperial March.
Driven by Josef Husbauer, the player of the season by far, and flanked by Borek Dockal, Sparta scored the most, conceded the least and played the best football in the division by some distance.
The league and cup double was theirs, and there was nothing that nobody else could do about it (apart from Teplice(who defeated Sparta in May, ensuring that nobody would be able to refer to this squad as “the invincibles”.)
If there is one criticism to level at the league this season it is that Sparta were not presented with any challengers for the duration of the campaign: Plzen saw Pavel Vrba depart in favour of the national team, leaving the defending champions to flirt with the exciting prospect of Zemanlandia before finally settling on Dusan Uhrin Jr.
Slovan Liberec excelled on Thursday evenings but were jet-lagged on Sunday afternoons, Jablonec staged their own dirty protest and Teplice peaked by Christmas, and Mlada Boleslav coasted along in third place without a care in the world.
Luckily, whilst the title was a foregone conclusion, the scrap at the wrong end of the table was an enjoyable one which went down to the final day of the season.
Any two of Slavia Prague, Bohemians 1905, Sigma Olomouc and Znojmo could have faced relegation to the Czech second tier. But when it was all said and done, it was the capital clubs who survived and the Moravian clubs were fell.
Slavia’s situation is a peculiar one. There is quality within their squad however they continuously underperformed and suffered a number of embarrassing defeats throughout the course of the season – none more so than the successive hammerings by Teplice and Mlada Boleslav which led Michal Petrous to jump out of Eden before he was pushed.
Petrous’ successor was to be Miroslav Koubek who, it must be said, oversaw a slight turnaround in form. But any modicum of normality has to be expunged and Koubek was dismissed with the Dutchman Alex Pastoor drafted in to install some Total Football. Except the concept of a free-flowing philosophy never really got going: Slavia showed promise but it was less Beautiful Orange and more Chocolate Orange as Vrsovice’s biggest club turned into a brittle outfit that were every bit as fragile as Terry’s finest.
Luckily for Slavia, though, Sigma were dreadful all year. Quite how they have plummeted from being that was, at one point, second in the Gambrinus Liga last season to fifteenth is beyond comprehension.
Sigma and Slavia were joined in the relegation fight by the now battle-hardened Banik Ostrava (both on and off the pitch) who navigated financial problems, the threat of eviction and three managers to mount another successful late-season charge. After looking a certainty for the drop, Banik pulled off a great escape as they stormed up to end up occupying a very respectable – and surprising – tenth.
Meanwhile, Slovacko provided proof that being average isn’t such a bad thing as they achieved a reputable sixth-placed finished. The same can be said of Dukla Prague who likewise promote a stable management structure.
Will other, bigger clubs take notice? Probably not.
But back to the champions: Their verticality, dynamicism and intensity trampled all before them with their playing style best embodied by the endless work ethic of Josef Husbauer whose tireless approach saw the central midfielder claim the Golden Boot with an impressive eighteen goals. The first midfielder ever to top the scoring charts and the first midfielder since Pavel Nedved to hit the back of the net more than ten times in a single season, the Gambrinus Liga belonged to the Czech international who, unsurprisingly, has set foreign tongues wagging. But Sparta’s board remain steadfast, stating that only Tomas Vaclik (to Basel) will be departing from this stable and double-winning side. Yet money talks.
Money though doesn’t necessarily talk for Pavel Vrba who, after achieving two titles, two Champions League runs, two successive forays into the later stages of the Europa League and the Czech Cup, decided that he wanted a new challenge to sink his teeth into and opted to take up the mantle (and burden) of coaching the Czech national side.
With an ageing squad that became dependent on tired legs, Plzen failed to mount a serious title defence as they attempted to compete on two fronts. Vrba’s signature has been somewhat eroded by his successor, Dusan Uhrin Jr., but after a relatively easy transition spell (so far) Plzen are primed to push Sparta closer next year provided they continue to usher in newer, younger legs.
Finally, it wouldn’t be a true season review without mentioning that this was the year when Bosnians bought success.
Haris Harba (Jihlava), Admir Ljevakovic and Aidin Mahmutovic (both Teplice) and Jasmin Scuk all ran riot. It’s just a shame Safet Susic has no idea where the Czech Republic is.
CZEFootball’s Best XI
Tomas Vaclik (Sparta) – Pavel Kaderabek (Sparta), Radoslav Kovac (Liberec), Mario Holek (Sparta), Costa (Sparta) – Josef Husbauer (Sparta), Jasmin Scuk (Ml. Boleslav), Tomas Horava (Plzen) – Borek Dockal (Sparta), David Lafata (Sparta), Ladislav Krejci (Sparta)
Substitutes: Vlastimil Hruby (Znojmo); Jan Krob (Teplice), Jakub Brabec (Sparta); Lukas Vaculik (Jihlava), Lukas Vacha (Sparta); Vaclav Vasicek (Znojmo), Haris Harba (Jihlava)
Player of the Season
3. Jasmin Scuk –There are many adjectives to describe Scuk with perhaps the best of them being understated. His goal tally was boosted on account of being Mlada Boleslav’’s designated penalty taker, but the central midfielder had, like Husbauer, a knack of finding himself in the right place at the right time. Not bad when on the back foot either. He probably should be in Brazil.
2. Borek Dockal – Husbauer rightly gets the plaudits, but so much of Sparta’s success can be attributed to the right boot of Dockal. Bought from Rosenborg to replace Vaclav Kadlec, the right-winger produced so much more than Kadlec did. His nineteen assists in twenty-five games is, unsurprisingly, a record.
1. Josef Husbauer – 18 goals and eight assists. Husbauer posted some ridiculous statistics that haven’t been seen in the Czech top flights since Pavel Nedved. Easily the best player in the division.
CZEFootball’s Manager of the Season
Viteslav Lavicka. Though again if Lavicka is too obvious and you’d like a different name then it’ll be Leos Kalvoda. The man nearly worked miracles.
Team of the season
Okay, if Sparta is too obvious a choice then Znojmo.
They may have been relegated, but they almost stayed up – which given their stature and what they’ve had to endure over the past ten months is a remarkable achievement. Relegation certainties last July, Znojmo were punching far above their weight by Christmas but sadly had to sit idly by as three of their four pillars in Patrik Hrosovsky, Radim Nepozitek and Tomas Oklestek were all relocated.
Issues out of their control almost certainly ensured their demotion.
Goal of the year
Step forward Frantisek Rajtoral. People might argue that Josef Husbauer’s thunderbastard of a strike against Sigma Olomouc should have won the award, but given that it took a knick on its way to beating both the sound barrier and Zdenek Zlamal, and the fact he made a regular occurrence of it drags it down. Rajtoral’s volley on the other hand was just so phenomenal and so unexpected. Pick that out.
Game of the season
Jablonec 5-5 Znojmo. Just a ridiculously crazy game of football. And just to add insult to injury, Znojmo hammered Miroslav Pelta’s side 4-0 in the reverse fixture later on in the season.
|1.||Sparta Prague (C)(UCL)||30||25||4||1||+59||79|
|2.||Viktoria Plzen (UEL)||30||19||9||2||+43||66|
|3.||Mlada Boleslav (UEL)||30||14||8||8||+16||50|
|4.||Slovan Liberec (UEL)||30||14||6||10||-9||48|
|15.||Sigma Olomouc (R)||30||7||8||15||-18||29|
- Posted by Chris Boothroyd
- On 26th April 2015