Pavel Nedvěd: The World's Greatest Footballer Without Being Great
I'll start by admitting that it wasn't easy writing this piece.
Even thinking about it without bursting into massive cliches and gushing about how Pavel Nedvěd is the greatest player in the history of world football and he was unlike anyone else who's ever lived and we should all hail him as King of the World... but as I'll try and explain, unfortunately this isn't Nedvěd's style, maybe I'll save it for Cristiano Ronaldo though.
So why am I celebrating his career? How can I articulate why exactly he deserves a tribute? What defined him? Well, let's start with what the experts have to say and Czechoslovakia's 1976 European Championship winning member Karol Dobias sounds like he'd have a good opinion on the matter.
"This lad has no future," he wrote in his newspaper column commenting on when Nedvěd started playing for Slavia Prague. Recently, Nedvěd stated that he "owes a lot to Dobias for motivating me even more to reach the very top."
And within this small riposte one can already see the mentality which served Nedvěd so very well.
Another story comes from when the Czech was signed by Juventus from Lazio in order to fill that Zidane-shaped hole left in their squad in 2001. He outshone all his team-mates and earned all of their respect, not through his antics on the football pitch but instead through his commitment in training.
He would deliberately stay on later than everyone else and even stay in Turin over summer just to ensure he was on top form. And it was this discipline which earned him the trophies and longevity which came later at the Old Lady.
And this is Nedvěd's secret. He won the 2003 Ballon d'Or from the clutches of Zinedine Zindane and Thierry Henry not on terms of his natural ability on the ball, blistering pace or magic touch, otherwise he'd have come stone dead last.
The Czech built his foundations on the principles of hard work and sheer grit and determination, in fact he said himself, "I don't think I am that great technically. My game is simple; there are no secrets to it, just work and more work."
By his own definition, Nedvěd is a pretty ordinary football player. He doesn't have any brilliant, shining, stand-out qualities but instead has worked hard at being good at everything. Which is something we can aspire to. If anything, he proved that football could be played at any level by almost anyone if backed-up with the right mentality.
Another defining moment of his career came in the 2006 Calciopoli match-fixing scandal, in which Juventus was relegated to Serie B with a points deduction. Nedvěd was high on the list of transfers away from Turin that very summer and if this didn't happen, then many were sure he'd head into retirement.
So you can understand the shock when he stayed true to the Bianconeri and stayed for another three seasons. Not just playing an integral place in leading the club into Serie A again, but into the Champions League. He is forever a part of Juventus folklore for being one of the few who stayed and restored the honour of one of the greatest clubs in Italy.
In fact, so fond was Ranieri in using the Czech that he came under fire from pundits and writers alike for not using starlet Sebastian Giovinco on the left wing instead. But the simple fact of the matter was that there was no-one on the team-sheet with the commitment, nor the contribution to the team that the 36-year-old had.
It's not particularly surprising then that in his last game, aptly a league fixture between Juventus and Lazio, that the Czech received a standing ovation from everyone in the stadium. It wasn't a reserved applause for a man trotting off into retirement; better than that, it had been earned.
Nedvěd was a player who could have easily had no future but whose sheer will and determination went on to make him European Player of the Year. He wasn't a great player in the same vein as Zindane or Platini or Maradonna, with an arsenal of dazzling skills to fall back on, he was just himself and worked hard at it.
That's what made him great without being great.
And just to prove it. Because we all know someone hasn't made it in the world of football until someone makes a compilation of their best goals set to some migraine-inducing house music on youtube...:
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