Czech soccer star Vladimír Šmicer looks back on a successful career – Part 1

Vladimír Šmicer

The Czech soccer player Vladimír Šmicer has enjoyed a very successful career, winning league titles in the Czech Republic and France, and a number of trophies with one of the world’s biggest clubs, Liverpool. The attacking midfielder, who is now 36, was also part of the Czech team that surprised many by reaching the final of the 1996 European Championship. I met Vladimír Šmicer at the stadium of Slavia Prague, the club where his career began in the early 1990s.

“I was born in a small village called Verneřice, about 80 kilometres from Prague. We were living there with my family until I was 14, and then we moved to Prague.”

Was football always the first choice sport for you, or did you have to choose between different sports?

“No, football was always my first choice. I don’t know why, when I was young I was constantly kicking a ball. Of course I liked playing tennis or other sports, but football always had first place in my head.”

You joined Slavia Prague, I believe, when you were about 14. There are a lot of players who when they’re young look promising but never become professional players – at what point did you think, this is it, I can do this, and I’ve kind of made it?

“Yes, it’s always difficult to say at what moment you’ve arrived at the point where you think you can make it. But I think it was around the time when I was 18, 19, something like that, because I was playing regularly for Slavia’s reserve team. I wasn’t bad, I could score goals, I could make goals. Before it was different – when I was 14, 15, I played for Slavia’s junior teams, but sometimes I played, sometimes I didn’t…so it was still very open.”

At 20 you started playing for the Czech national team. In the end you won over 80 international caps, you scored 27 goals, including some important ones. What was your first game for the Czechs? Who was it against? What do you remember of that match?

“That was pretty soon after I started playing for Slavia. My first game was against Cyprus and it was in Košice, because at that time we were still the Czechoslovak team. It was a special game. Of course I remember a lot of things: we won 3:0, there were a lot of great Slovak players still there then, I played for about 70 minutes. I didn’t score a goal, but it was a great moment for me.”

1996 was a big year for you.

Vladimír Šmicer,  Euro 96,  photo: CTK
“Yes, a very big year, because Slavia won the title, we went to the semi-final of the UEFA Cup, which was a great achievement for a Czech club. And of course we played at Euro 96 in England. It went pretty well for us, we were the surprise of the tournament, and we played the final.”

About the time of Euro 96, you got married, but your wedding turned into a bit of a circus…it took place on Old Town Square in Prague.

“That’s a great memory. The wedding was only two days before the final. Before the semi-final I asked the coach if I can go [to Prague for the wedding] if we go through and he said, yeah, if you go through to the final you can do anything you want! We qualified for the final against France, after penalties. We hadn’t expected that we’d go all the way to the final, and that’s why we had this date for the wedding. In the end it was great, a lot of people were there…Of course I couldn’t enjoy it really as after the wedding I had to go back to England.”

Now how do you look at Euro 96? You got to the final, that was a great success, but you were beaten by the Germans.

“Of course before the tournament if anybody had told me that we could reach the final I would never have believed it. But after 70 minutes we were leading 1:0 and I thought we could hold that lead until the end. But then Bierhof scored two goals, one in normal time and one in extra time – that was the Golden Goal, unfortunately for us, because we had no chance to react. We lost but I think we really played beyond our abilities at that tournament. We were the underdogs and we made a big surprise.”

After the tournament you moved to the French club Lens. Why the French league, and how did things go for you there?

“It was a French team, because I thought I needed to take another step in my career. I had already played in the Czech league for five years and I had this offer from Lens, because we played against them in the UEFA Cup and they liked how I played. They offered me a contract after those games, because I was at the end of my contract here at Slavia. So I said, why not? Of course maybe if I had signed a contract after Euro 96 I could have played for a better team. But in the end I was very happy, because things went well. It’s a small club with a lot of fans. In the end we won the title for the first time in their history, so I was really very happy that I signed with this club.”

In 1999 you joined one of the biggest clubs in the world, Liverpool. You also wore the number seven jersey that had previously been worn by the club’s biggest legend, Kenny Dalglish. Were you nervous joining Liverpool?

“I don’t want to say nervous, but I had a lot of respect for the club of course, and when I was a small boy I really had a dream of playing for them one day. Sometimes it looks strange when you arrive at a club and say, oh, it’s my dream come true, but really it was my favourite team. So I had a lot of expectations about what I could expect from the team, from the fans. With the number seven jersey, of course it was a lot of pressure on me. My first year was not that good, because I arrived with injuries – I had a lot of injuries through my career at Liverpool, which I was unhappy about – but I was really, really happy to join Liverpool. My friend Patrik Berger was already playing for Liverpool, and it was really something fantastic.”

Tell us about your friendship with him, what kind of relationship have you got?

“When Patrik was young, he played for Sparta, Slavia’s big rival. Then he signed for Slavia and we started playing together at the age of 19. We had an apartment together in Prague, and from that point we started to be really good friends. Then he moved to Dortmund, I moved to Lens, and in the end we joined one another at Liverpool – it was something unbelievable, we couldn’t believe it was happening.”

And you and he had great success in the year 2001, when Liverpool won the UEFA Cup, the FA Cup, the League Cup…

“It was definitely our best season there, because we were playing together and the club won five trophies [the other two were the Charity Shield and the UEFA Super Cup], which was maybe a first in England. We were very happy to be part of this team.”

In the second half of our interview in tomorrow’s programme, Vladimír Šmicer remembers the incredible 2005 Champions League final in which he scored for Liverpool, his return to Czech football, and his plans for the future.