Czech soccer star Vladimír Šmicer looks back on a successful career – Part 2

Vladimír Šmicer, photo: www.slavia.cz

In his final appearance for the club, Vladimír Šmicer scored for Liverpool as they came from 3:0 down to beat AC Milan in the 2005 Champions League final, one of the most dramatic football matches of all time. The Czech player had started what became the game of his career as a substitute, but was sent on after half an hour when a team-mate got injured. Looking back over four years later, Šmicer remembers his reaction when Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez told him to get ready.

Champions League final in 2005, photo: CTK
“I was very happy because Benitez knew I was leaving Anfield and I was surprised he picked me to go on. I knew it was my last game for Liverpool and I said to myself, now you have to do your best, because it was the final, we were already losing 1:0, and of course I wanted to win the trophy...”

Many people regard that as the greatest game of football that has ever been played. Liverpool were losing 3:0 at half time. In the second half they came back and it was 3:3 and it ended up going to penalties. You scored a goal and a penalty…do you remember the goal?

“Yes, of course I do because it was one of the most memorable goals of my career. Didi Hamman gave me a pass and I tried to hit the ball as quick as I could because I didn’t have much time. It went through, I think, Milan Baroš and then [Milan goalkeeper] Dida was short, fortunately [laughs]”.

When it came to penalties, did you volunteer, or did Benitez tell you to take one?

“No, he came to me and asked me if I’d like to take one and I said, yes, I’d like to take a penalty, because I felt fine in the game. I was 32, I thought, OK, this is going to be my maturity, I have to show what I have learned in six years at Liverpool. I didn’t want to leave the responsibility for somebody else. I was glad to say that, because sometimes you don’t feel right, but in that moment I felt, OK, I will score.”

Since then have you watched the game or the highlights many times?

“Yes, I’ve showed it to my son. I’ve got a son, he’s six now and sometimes I show him the game, though he’s still too young…The game is really often on TV, because it was a great game for the fans, the reaction was fantastic, the emotions…But at home, not very often, you know it’s already been four years.”

After the game you could see you and Milan Baroš celebrating together on TV. I think he was shouting “máme to” – we have it. What were you shouting?

“I was shouting the same thing, we have it, Číčo, because Číčo is the nickname of Patrik Berger. We spoke to him on the phone before the game and he said, if you win then you have to say something on TV, so we said it.”

And that was your last game for Liverpool. How do you look back now on your six years at the club?

“I’m very proud that I played for really one of the biggest clubs in the world. And the six years…I know I could have done better, because very often I had injuries, which stopped me from showing my best in a consistent way…but in the end, as I said, I am proud. I won a lot of trophies. The only disappointment was that we didn’t win the league, which I think is now the most important thing for Liverpool fans. Hopefully it will arrive soon.”

You spent one year in France [with Bordeaux] and then came back here to Slavia – what had changed in Czech football in those years that you were away?

“I think our league is a little bit younger. A lot of quality players are playing abroad. Our league is not bad, but we lack a little bit the quality of the best players. Before when I was playing nearly all the big players were still playing in the Czech league. Now it’s really changed – any good young player moves abroad, to play for an English club, a Spanish club, a German club. So I think we’re lacking these good young players a bit.”

The last couple of years have seen some problems with discipline with the Czech international team, with drinking and girls and that kind of thing…do you think the current generation is different from your generation, which was Poborský, Nedvěd and so on?

“Before we went to have a beer as well, you know, but I think, yes, the new generation with all the stuff, the computers, internet, Facebook and all this stuff, it’s definitely a change and they are different…”

Vladimír Šmicer, photo: www.slavia.cz
Have things maybe come too easy for those younger players?

“Of course, everything is much easier than it was for us. Even for us it was more difficult to move abroad. Now really you can have a few good games and then you go.”

I have a theory that Czech footballers are the greatest ambassadors for the Czech Republic. For example Petr Čech or Pavel Nedvěd are better known than any Czech politicians. Do you think there’s some truth in that?

“Yes, definitely, definitely. Because these players you mentioned are really famous and very, very good professionals. I am happy that they show that we are here, that the Czech Republic is on the map. It’s the same a bit with the ice hockey players in the NHL in America, and because of them some people know where the Czech Republic is.”

You’re 36 now yourself, you’ve had several operations over the years including an knee operation earlier this year…I was reading somewhere that your plan now is to get fit and to come back just so you can say goodbye to football on the field of play.

Vladimír Šmicer, photo: www.slavia.cz
“Yes, that’s definitely the only reason I’m in training now. I’m trying to go on the pitch for the last time, because, I don’t know, it’s quite sad for me to imagine saying from the hospital or from my home, OK, I’m finishing my career. I’d like to do that on the pitch.”

After you do that on the pitch, what’s next for Vladimír Šmicer?

“I’ve got a few possibilities. I’ve got a good offer from Slavia to stay here and work for the club. Or I may go and work for the Czech football federation, because the head of it, Ivan Hašek, offered me a good opportunity to work with the national team as manager – not as a coach, of course it’s different in England, but behind the scenes.”