Tag Archives: bony wilfried

Czech Football Forced To Sell Its Ambition

Record breaking transfer sums have snatched the recent football headlines as Europe’s largest clubs exchange players for vast sums of money. Cast your eye over some of the smaller nations however, and the contrast is stark.

While Chelsea acquired another star striker to reinforce their squad as we approach the 2011 denouement, Czech champions Sparta Praha have sold their leading marskman Bony Wilfried to Vitesse Arnhem for a meagre €4million.

On the surface this appears a rather poor bit of business. Sparta intend to win the Gambrinus League each year and in order to overhaul Autumn’s surprise package Plzen, one would expect them to hold on to key players in their search for the title. In spite of this and their forthcoming lucrative tie against Liverpool in Europe, Sparta have cashed in on both Wilfried and their Slovakian midfield lynchpin, Juraj Kucka.

However Sparta will be pleased with their winter business. In Czech football €4million is quite a windfall, which underlines the wealth disparity between the EPL juggernaught and the Gambrinus League. What plays in Sparta’s favour is that (with Slavia out of the financial picture) the talent vacuum is filled by the best of Sparta’s rivals. In this instance, fourth-placed Jablonec have allowed the league’s second leading striker Tomáš Pekhart to join Sparta on loan until the end of the season.

Tomáš Pekhart at Jablonec

Young Pekhart has bagged 11 goals already this season pushing Jablonec into fourth spot as an outsider for the title. Not any more. It seems quite a peculiarity that a championship rival appears only too happy to adhere to Sparta’s needs. It is similar to Newcastle allowing Andy Carroll to join Liverpool, but without£35million ever entering the equation.

Jablonec coach Komnácky justifies the transfer by reconciling that Jablonec are a “provincial” club in austere times. Sparta have no option to buy, so presumably Jablonec are hoping Pekhart’s value will heighten at Sparta and they can cash in over the summer.

It seems unthinkable that clubs could sell their ambition this way but such is the financial predicament of Czech football. Plzen are chasing their first ever title and look to be locked in a two way battle with Sparta over the Spring, yet they have also sold key performers despite their unexpectedly favourable position.

Czech football’s poverty coupled with its enforced 3 month winter break means that clubs in the Gambrinus League are forced to break-up and rebuild squads twice each season. The Spring first XI often has a wildly different complexion to that seen during Autumn, which prohibits any consistency and obstructs the development of the Gambrinus League and its players. It is an infuriating reality to adjust to when following the have-nots of European football.

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Multi-racial Czech Football

Throughout central and eastern Europe, dark-skinned players are subjected to racist abuse from home and away fans, and sometimes even their own club officials. This is nothing new. Archaic racial prejudice is just one corollary of five decades of curbed immigration and integration.

Wilfried & Kweuke at Sparta (gambrinus.cz)

During the 90s, racial discrimination was firmly ensconced on the terraces of the Gambrinus League, the top level of football in the Czech Republic. Today, the culture of tolerating racism in Czech football appears to be on the wane.

Radio Prague spoke with Slavia Prague spokesman Ondřej Zlamal, “Football is a game, and it’s just a mirror of the society. I don’t think that the roots of racism and this kind of racist behaviour lie in football. I think the Czech Football Federation has been doing a very good job so far monitoring, warning the clubs, but they could be stricter”.

He might have a point. Prague’s changing complexion could well be contributing to the positive cultural shift in Czech football. Black faces are not the extraordinary sight they once were in what is the former eastern bloc’s most cosmopolitan capital.

However, this newfound multiculturalism is not replicated across the country. Much of the persistent racism against black players is concentrated in Czech’s provincial cities. Clubs such as Baník Ostrava and Sigma Olomouc have suffered sporadic racial incidents but recent additions of talented black players to their squads have helped to quell any disquiet.

The Czech FA appears to be taking the issue seriously and has launched a number of high-profile campaigns since the millennium, while Sparta Prague and other leading Czech clubs have invested sizeable resources to combat the issue at matches and in their local communities.

Bad Memories

Kennedy Chihuri, a Zimbabwean who was among the Gambrinus League’s first black players in 1996, bore the brunt of Czech ultras’ hostility during his eight years and 200 appearances for Viktoria Žižkov. The league owes much to Chihuri’s nerve and resilience, as it is he and a few courageous others that paved the way for the dozens of younger black players who now enjoy careers in the Czech leagues.

Ignorant monkey chants are now a rare occurrence inside grounds, and what palpable racism remains usually originates from a lone, anonymous voice in the crowd. Encouragingly, fellow spectators now openly challenge these outbursts. This is not to say racism is close to being eradicated from Czech football, but it has come a long way in a relatively short space of time. The Gambrinus League now compares favourably with other countries in the region, and the environment inside grounds is noticeably improving.

One Big, Happy Family?

During the Autumn 2010 season, Sparta Prague boasted an all-African strike pairing, both of whom were popular at Letná. When told of Chihuri’s experiences, Cameroonian Leonard Kweuke and Ivory Coast international Bony Wilfried* expressed disbelief. Speaking to Czech news agency iDnes, Kweuke remarked, “Maybe the times have definitely changed.” Wilfried admitted,“If it happened to me, I would not stay here.”

An important litmus test will arrive the day a black Czech is called up to the national side. Given the support black players now receive from their home fans, one would hope a black Czech would be shown the same respect in the nation’s colours. It might also do wonders for race relations across the country, as Nigerian-born striker Emmanuel Olisadebe did in helping Poland qualify for World Cup 2002.

Shifting cultural attitudes is seldom achieved overnight and although progress has been made it appears little is being done about the issues of anti-Semitism and prejudice against Roma in the Czech game. In England it took decades, and yet revelations in the Sky studios only this week exposed the bigotry that remains in spite of the progress made in fighting (black) racism.

Czech football still harbours an insalubrious element. Sanctimonious commentators across Britain and western Europe are quick to criticise central and eastern European countries on this issue but it is equally important to recognise progress when it is made. Compared to only fifteen years ago the Gambrinus League has improved markedly. There remains plenty of work ahead, but at last Czech football is heading in the right direction.

*Wilfried was sold at a profit to Vitesse Arnhem 31/1/2011.