Farewell, King Karel…

Karel Brückner, photo: CTK
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Following Sunday’s dramatic defeat against Turkey in the Euro 2008 football championships, Czech coach Karel Brückner confirmed that he will step down. We examine his life and career:

Karel Brückner, photo: CTK
“King Karel” and “Karel to the Castle” – those were the chants heard four years ago during the Czech Republic’s hugely entertaining ascendancy to the semi-finals of Euro 2004, in which they were knocked out by the eventual winners Greece. The tournament included what has been described as one of the most entertaining matches in the history of football, a group stage game between Holland and the Czech Republic, that the Czechs ultimately won 3-2.

It was a glorious peak for a team tipped by many commentators as one of the best in the world. But two years later, in World Cup 2006 the Czechs were knocked out at the group stage – two years later, the same has occurred in Euro 2008. The whispers about Karel Brückner’s leadership of the team had grown louder during this time, and even before the 2008 tournament started, the 68 year old coach had let it be known that this tournament would be his last.

Karel Brückner, photo: CTK
Karel Brückner was born in 1939 in the Czech town of Olomouc, the son of a textile merchant. Despite studying mechanical engineering, he soon turned his attention to his two main loves – football and hockey. Eventually, football won out and between 1957-1972, Brückner played for Sigma Olomouc before playing for a year at Baník Ostrava, where he retired aged 34. Immediately upon his retirement, he turned to coaching, returning to Sigma Olomouc until 1977. Various coaching assignments followed, but each time he would return for spells as coach of his beloved Sigma Olomouc. In 1998, he left the club to coach the under 21 national team, and in 2002 Brückner landed the role of coach of the Czech national team, following their failure to qualify for the 2002 World Cup in South Korea and Japan.

Karel Brückner, photo: CTK
Two years later, glory followed, with Brückner leading a talented team including Karel Poborský, Pavel Nedvěd, Tomáš Rosický, Petr Čech and Jan Koller. After the epic 2004 contest, the light over the Czech team and Brückner’s leadership began to fade. With Nedvěd’s retirement from international football, Rosický’s injury preventing him from participating and with a team clearly tired from a long season of league football, the writing was on the wall. A decidedly gloomy mood never really lifted from the team during this year’s Euro 2008 tournament, despite some impressive form in the final albeit tragic match against Turkey on Sunday. The Czech Republic managed to squander a 2-0 lead, with Turkey eventually winning 3-2. Brückner’s words summed it up best – “we collapsed.” Despite the poor final showing, most agree that Brückner will still be remembered as one of the best coaches the Czech national team has ever had.