Pavel Nedved was one of the best players of his generation but is often lost in the wash of some of his more famous counterparts. Perhaps this is because of his understated style both on and off the pitch. He didn’t seek the limelight and he didn’t get embroiled in controversy. He just played hard, played exceptionally well and won trophies, long blonde hair bouncing around all the while. Between 1996 and 2006 I would argue that only Zidane and Ronaldo surpassed him. Others came and went, but for sheer consistent excellence Nedved is behind only those two all time greats during this time period.
Winner of 5 Serie A titles, 2 Coppa Italia titles and a Cup Winners Cup as well as a Champions League runner up, the biggest honour of Nedved’s career came in 2003 when, at the peak of his powers, he won the prestigious Balon D’Or ahead of Theirry Henry and Paolo Maldini. Nedved also won 91 international caps and scored 18 goals during the Czech Republic’s golden period. No coincidence that the Czechs were the force they were with Nedved as their long time captain. So, what made him so special on the field?
To put it simply, Nedved was the complete package as a midfielder. A player with no weaknesses. He was even equally capable with both feet, that rarest of players who was genuinely equally capable with both his left and right foot. So much so that it was impossible to know which, if either, he preferred. His primary asset was his drive and determination and his ability to ring out every little bit of his talent every game. He was relentlessly consistent because of his fitness and intelligence. He was the driving force for Lazio and Juventus and one of Serie A’s leading players during a period when the world’s greatest were either in Serie A or at Real Madrid’s galacticos. That he stood out above such talent is testament to his ability and the respect he had of his fellow professionals.
He was a hustling runner, shuffling around the field from one of the various midfield deployments he was given. He was often shifted out wide or deep to facilitate some new signing and did so without complaining, simply moving across and playing superbly. He was the definition of all action, buzzing around to receive the ball and move it on to a teammate or robbing the opposition of it with a well timed tackle or an excellently positioned interception. He popped up with all kinds of goals, late arrivals in to the box, tap ins and long range spectaculars.
Nedved emerged as one of the finest young talents in Europe whilst winning the Czech league with Sparta Prague but really came to prominence at Euro 96. In a team with the likes of Berger and Poborsky who got moves to the Premier League off their performances it was Nedved that was the key man. The phrase ‘driving force’ comes to mind again. An unfancied and young Czech side made it all the way to the final with Nedved’s industry and quality shining out. Europe’s big clubs took notice.
A move to big spending Lazio in Italy signaled the start of period of sustained personal excellence. Lazio hadn’t won a Seria A title for 25 years but a Nedved inspired side won the 1999-2000 title. For all the glittering array of stars like Veron and Crespo in the side, it was Nedved who was the key man. He brought the grit and will to win to compliment the attacking flair of the other stars.
Nedved’s 2001 move to Juventus highlighted his importance in a few ways. Sold for near enough £30m, as soon as he departed Lazio began to decline and plunge down the league to mid table insignificance. Juventus on the other hand immediately won Serie A despite having sold Zidane. The biggest compliment that can ever be paid to Nedved is that Juventus felt that he was a worthy replacement for one of the greatest players of all time, and after signing him he took them to the league title. That impact summed up Nedved perfectly.
Euro 2004 was almost Nedved’s finest hour. The captain of the Czech team which was comfortably the best in the tournament he should have lifted the trophy to solidify his place in history. The semi final against Greece was a game that will go down as an aesthetic injustice. Nedved departed early to a knee injury and thereafter the Czechs struggled to overcome a resilient Greek team. Without the leadership and will to win of Nedved on the field they just couldn’t overcome the back ten and crashed out. Again, a sign of his immense influence.
Pavel Nedved symbolised what all footballers should desire to be. Incredibly sucessful and accomplished on the field as well as being a leader and role model off it. One of the best players of the modern era without a doubt.