The Czech league isn't well known across Europe, why not give it a try? Small preview for next season included!
With a mix of young, exciting players & well drilled teams, the Czech top flight really is a league worth exploring for a football fanatic. When most people think of Czech football, they undoubtedly think of Sparta Prague. By far the countries most succesful club side & with a record of developing some top class players it's easy to see why. Pavel Nedved, Tomas Rosicky, Petr Cech, Jan Koller & Michal Kadlec have all been exported to Europe via the Letna club but over recent years, the league hasn't been as 1 sided as it once was. Stats can be interpreted in many ways but it's hard to dispute the dominance of Sparta. 11 titles out of 19 since the break up of Czechoslovakia speak for themselves. Despite their general dominance of the Czech game though, Sparta have only managed to win 1 Championship out of the last 5 (Slavia Prague 2, Viktoria Plzen 1, Slovan Liberec 1). The recent challengers to Sparta have certainly freshened the league up. Sparta's only success in the last 5 years wasn't exactly a stroll too despite going the whole season unbeaten, just 2 points separated Sparta in 1st & Banik Ostrava down in 3rd. Last seasons title race was the closest I've known, with Liberec hosting Plzen on the final day of the season with the 2 being the only sides capable of being crowned champions. In the end Liberec came out victorious following a tense 0-0 draw which saw the club lift their 3rd Gambrinus Liga title in the most dramatic way!
The 1st major plus point of the Czech league is the price of a match ticket. 150Kč is the most I've ever paid (around £5) and that was to see the defending champions in their recently renovated stadium. Average ticket prices are between 50-100Kč (£2-£4) For not a lot of money, you can see some genuine talent, not obsessed with colossal wages like most major leagues. Season ticket prices are cheap too. Last year, Slavia season tickets were 1400Kč (Around £40) Which included cup matches too. Although the Cup isn't taken so seriously, it's always nice to go to a game for free! The die-hard fans of the clubs always make for an interesting atmosphere too, they might not sing as much as English clubs, but when they get going, you notice & are always keen for people to join in, whether they're Czech or not, on a recent visit to Banik Ostrava's "Bazaly" ground with Zizkov, me & 2 friends joined in with the Zizkov demonstration that may have been small scale, but it was certainly something I'll remember doing, though the Banik away end could do with some work!
As a football fan living in England, I'm usually annoyed at not being able to take a beer to my seat during the game... Not in the Czech Republic! Bar a few high risk games (Usually involving Slavia, Sparta & Banik) Alcohol is readily available & much like the food sold in the stadium, it's cheap. There's nothing like experience the 2 extremes of Czech weather through football. From glorious sunday mornings watching the recently relegated Viktoria Zizkov in the bright, glaring sunshine to a bitterly cold evening watching Slavia Prague, the match day experience in the Czech Republic is always a pleasure.
Thankfully you don't have to be in the Czech Republic to watch the games as all games are streamed live whether they are televised or not.
Now after reading up on the positives of the league, why not stick around & read my Preview for the season. I've not mentioned each club individually, but I've previewed the title contenders as well as noteable other sides. Enjoy...
Having failed to dominate in recent seasons, Sparta are currently attempted to bring back the glory days to the club. Martin Hasek has gone, Lavicka his replacement. Crucially, Ladislav Krejci has signed a new long term deal. Their break through star of last season had understandably been attracting interest from Borussia Moenchengladbach but the Sparta board have done a superb job in keeping him at the club to further enhance his development. It's hard to look beyond them for the championship due to their vast array of talent, but they were strong last season too, so this season coming could be anything from superb, to shocking for them.
The emergence of Viktoria Plzen under Pavel Vrba has been a joy to behold. Fast, attacking, flowing football that has at times been unstoppable have turned them from an average mid table side to a side that are now genuinely feared. Towards the end of last season, I visited Viktoria Plzen-Slavia Prague (I'm a Slavia fan) Plzen ran out 3-0 winners but it was hard to be dissapointed after paying a mere 150Kč to see them play such wonderful football. Even with the distraction of European Football, Plzen were still in the 2011-2012 title race until the very last minute of the very last game. Not only have they earnt praise at home, but their style of play also attracted many admirers across Europe during their adventure in the Champions League in which they eliminated established European clubs including Rosenborg & FC Copenhagen as well as an impressive late come back to secure a 2-2 "home" draw vs AC Milan in the group stage. Despite losing the mercurial Vaclav Pilar & the speedy Milan Petrzela, it's hard to see Plzen not being up in the title chasing pack this coming season. Pavel Vrba, the coach that has master minded their Czech Cup & Czech league successes has decided to stay which is crucial for the club as his philosophy is improving the clubs reputation in a superb way & it's tough to see them doing anything other than going from strength to strength with the likes of the evergreen Pavel Horvath, the energetic Frantisek Rajtoral at right back & the excitement of Vladimir Darida complimenting Horvath in the middle of the park.
Though I can only see the Championship as a 2 horse race, the rest of the league still boasts some terrific potential for entertainment. Dukla Prague were superb from February until the seasons end & with Kozel still in charge they could very well continue to thrill with their 4-3-3 though the loss of last seasons loan star Ivan Lietava will be hard to replace. Slovan Liberec (Last seasons Champions) are always worth a watch too. Breznanik & Stajner are always good for a goal, with the latter terribly unlucky to have not been selected for Euro 2012. Theo Gebre Selassie has gone, but Ondrej Kusnir is a strong replacement, though he's unlikely to bomb forward in the way Gebre Selassie did so impressively throughout the last campaign. Jablonec are always good for goals too, most of the time this is due to their more than prolific striker David Lafata. If Jablonec can fight off the strong interest of Sparta & keep hold of their golden goose, there's no reason why they can't thrive this year. 25 goals in 30 games speaks for itself, if he is to join Sparta, Jablonec will have a remarkable task to find a replacement.
Further down the table & there is still excitement to be found. Petr Rada has taken the Slavia Prague job & has got them looking promising in pre-season. The classy Karol Kisel returning to the club can do no harm & recent signing Martin Juhar made an explosive start to his Slavia career in a recent friendly too. There's lots of discussion regarding the future of Martin Latka, who will be a huge loss to the Vrsovice club. As a Slavia fan, I'm hoping for a good season but it's never easy to tell what's going to happen with Slavia, I can hope!!
So, after the dramatic last day of last season, what does this season have in store? There's not long to wait now so I hope you all enjoy it, whether you're already a fan or whether you give it a try from this or the blogs mentioned above!