As another of Juventus’ all-time legends, Alessandro Del Piero, equalled a huge landmark this past weekend, news of another great player becoming a permanent fixture at the club was met with just as much joy and enthusiasm in the city of Turin.
Pavel Nedved, the wiry, tricky, sharp winger was regarded, during the 2000s, as one of the finest offensive midfielders in European football. His undeniable endeavour and application resulted in Nedved receiving the highly prestigious Balon d’Or in 2003, the first Czech to do so since the break-up of Czechoslovakia.
While the tag of ‘industrious’ is used rather patronisingly for footballers who lack natural talent and touch, Nedved’s perseverance added an extra dimension to his game. Boasting excellent technique, especially with free-kicks and long range efforts, his goals and assists magnify his tactical reading of the game. Initially a left winger who loved to jink and slalom on his right foot, Nedved was capable of playing across the midfield area, reflecting his character and personality in helping the team whenever in need.
Nedved was born in Cheb, a small city near Prague and from a young age he was encouraged to become an accountant. He most certainly didn’t regret his decision to become a footballer when, at 19, he debuted for Dukla Prague and then moved onto Sparta Prague a season later. It was at Sparta that Nedved’s star began to shine after scoring 26 times during his four-season spell, coinciding with an excellent Euro 96 campaign which led to him joining Zdenek Zeman at Lazio.
At Lazio, Nedved’s play became more tactically sophisticated, playing alongside Roberto Mancini, Dejan Stankovic and Juan Sebastian Veron during his period in the capital. Moreover, his time at Lazio was arguably the most successful period of his career. Scoring the winner in the 1999 Cup Winners Cup final against Real Mallorca at Villa Park led to winning Super Cup the same year.
The following season, under the management of Sven Goran Eriksson, the club managed an unprecedented double, winning the Coppa Italia and its first Scudetto in 25 years. Since then, the Biancoceleste haven’t won the Scudetto and, after five years, 138 matches and 51 goals for Lazio, Nedved was signed by Juventus for a whopping €41m to replace the outgoing Zinedine Zidane.
Proving to have the capabilities of replacing his predecessor, Nedved was lauded with accolades in helping Marcelo Lippi’s Juventus win consecutive Scudetti. Though Nedved was highly instrumental to the team advancing to the Champions League final in 2003, his tackle on Steve McManaman in semi-final meant he missed out through suspension. Despairing at his predicament, Nedved was seen crying when leaving the pitch and was later heard to say, ‘My dreams of winning the big eared cup since I was a child are over’.
When Fabio Capello was installed as Juventus manager, the Old Lady of Turin claimed another two titles, triumphs which were later withdrawn following the Calciopoli scandal, the club later being doomed to relegation to Serie B. Time was against Nedved after promotion to have one final push for the title as the balance of power had been shifted from Turin to Milan. As his injuries mounted up and arrived with greater frequency, Nedved decided to call time on his marvellously successful career.
Compared to other highly acclaimed players, Nedved’s achievements stack up very well. Nicknamed La Furia Ceca (The Czech Fury) by the Juve fans for his frenzied attitude during matches, the affection towards him did not only surround the walls of the Delle Alpi but spread across the globe, Nedved being loved for providing some of the most magical moments in football’s recent history.