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Commitment, Passion, Brilliance: The Reasons Pavel Nedved Is so Loved at Juve

Juventus Czech midfielder Pavel Nedved celebrates after scoring his second goal during their Serie A football match Juventus  vs Lecce at Olympic Stadium  in Turin on  May 05, 2009. AFP PHOTO / GIUSEPPE CACACE (Photo credit should read GIUSEPPE CACACE/AFP/Getty Images)
GIUSEPPE CACACE/Getty Images
Adam DigbyFeatured Columnist IIIDecember 30, 2016

Whether it is because they are superstitious or merely doing so out of habit, match-day rituals become part of the build-up for football fans across the globe. As kick-off time draws closer, supporters meet the same people in the same place, drink the same drink and wear their scarves in the same way.

That is certainly the case at Juventus Stadium, where a walk around the ground sees various groups in their usual spots. This continues once they pass through the turnstiles, with the team always entering the field for their pre-match warm-up to the sound of AC/DC’s hit “Thunderstruck.”

As Angus Young’s recognisable chords ring out, various members of the club’s hierarchy wander out to watch from the touchline, with director general Beppe Marotta and sporting director Fabio Paratici always present.

The duo are usually joined in their spot near the tunnel by president Andrea Agnelli with his deputy—and close friend—rounding out the quartet. It doesn’t take long for fans in the Curva Sud to recognise the vice-president, and it is then that another match-day ritual begins for the club’s most vociferous supporters.

As one they rise and call out his name. “Pa-vel, Pa-vel Nedved, Nedved” they sing repeatedly until their retired hero concedes. Every game he slowly begins to walk down towards them, clapping in acknowledgement of the adulation he receives before one last huge cheer.

Banging his hand on his heart then pointing at the current team on the pitch, Nedved implores the fans to cheer for the players and not for him before returning to his conversation at the halfway line.

There cannot be many club vice-presidents who enjoy such vocal support, but then not many club vice-presidents were signed for €41 million. That is the price Juventus paid for Nedved in the summer of 2001, landing him from Lazio as a direct replacement for Real Madrid-bound Zinedine Zidane.

Prior to that transfer, the Czech Republic international had established himself as a superb midfielder with Dukla Prague and Sparta Prague, winning three league titles with the latter before moving to Lazio in 1996.

Over the following five seasons his reputation would grow exponentially. He would help the Rome-based club lift both the Coppa Italia and Supercoppa Italiana on two occasions as well as the UEFA Super Cup and the final edition of the UEFA Cup Winners' Cup.

After that 1999 triumph he would help Lazio win only the second Serie A title in the club’s history, pipping the Bianconeri on the final day and prompting major changes from the Turin giants.

In his book “Il Pallone Lo Porto Io,” former Juve director Luciano Moggi revealed his motivation was simple. “Nedved always scored against us,” he wrote (h/t Forza Italian Football). “We’ll buy him so we can resolve this problem!”

Yet even armed with funds from the sale of Zidane, Moggi went on to say that he “needed a stroke of genius to get Nedved to agree to join Juve” so he concocted an elaborate plan as he explains in the aforementioned book:

I called Nedved and said: “Do me a favour and come to Turin, just look around you don’t have to sign with Juve.” I told Nedved I would send him a private plane while he was in Prague so nobody would see him. Pavel fell into my trap.

After I hung up with Nedved I called journalists and TVs to tell them “Nedved is on his way.” When Nedved got off the plane there were numerous reporters waiting for him. He told me “How could they know of my arrival?” Nedved went through a few days of protest in Rome and on July 4th he gave up. “Okay! I will sign with Juve.”

Eventually unveiled alongside Gigi Buffon, Lilian Thuram, Marcelo Salas and returning coach Marcello Lippi, the summer of 2001 saw Juventus send a clear message of intent after three years without a league title.

While the Bianconeri ended that drought, Nedved’s first season was a struggle. Battling against expectation and his hefty price tag, he failed to produce to his usual high standards as 2001/02 progressed.

Already a tireless worker, he intensified his efforts over that following summer, determined to be in the best possible shape in order to repay the faith Juventus had shown in him. Nedved would do so with the best season of his career.

Decisive in domestic action, it was in the Champions League where he made most impact. An equaliser away to Deportivo La Coruna secured a crucial point in the group stage, before a memorable goal at Camp Nou helped eliminate Barcelona and secured Juve’s place in the semi-finals.

There, Zidane and Real Madrid awaited. He scored to put the Bianconeri 3-0 ahead in the second leg and 4-1 on aggregate lead, but while his team-mates backed off to avoid making mistakes, Nedved’s competitive nature took over.

Attempting to win the ball back from Steve McManaman near the halfway line, he committed a foul and was booked, the entire stadium aware that the yellow card meant that he would be suspended for the final.

Allowing himself a moment of self-pity, Nedved slumped to his knees but without him Juventus looked toothless and eventually lost on penalties to AC Milan. It was a game that begged for a player like Nedved to take over, his energy and fire so often the difference for Lippi’s side.

His performances did not go unrewarded however, given the Ballon d’Or that year for his stellar efforts. Three more league titles would follow before the Calciopoli scandal erupted, stripping two of those honours away as Juventus were relegated to Serie B in the summer of 2006.

Talk of a move away raged, but in a lengthy interview with Forbes (h/t Football Italia), Nedved believes it was the decision he made then that endeared him to those supporters who still chant his name every week:

There were five of us. We could have gone anywhere, we had offers but we decided to stay. We then became immortal in the eyes of fans. Though, I thought it was only normal. The club was going through tough times and we just gave the club something back. I’m glad we managed to come back to Serie A the very next year.

Sometimes, you mustn’t think about risking your career and make a decision right from your heart. I have always had everything at Juventus and I wasn’t missing anything. It was our duty to stay in Serie B.

Indeed, it was a selfless act and one that will never be forgotten. He helped bring the Bianconeri back into the top flight and played on until 2009, retiring at the age of 36 following a 2-0 win over former club Lazio.

A standing ovation as he left the field for the final time was not enough, so Nedved was brought back onto the field, his team-mates all donning his famous No. 11 shirt in tribute to a truly remarkable player.

Fans, players and officials applauded him and Nedved was tearful as he jogged around the stadium one last time. Yet it is neither that emotional moment nor his absence in the 2003 Champions League final that comes to mind when thinking of what the “Czech Fury” means to Juventus.

It is him running—usually at full speed—his blonde hair swaying as he moves. It is thunderous shots from either foot or tenacious tackles, it is a wonderful array of passes and delicate touches.

Nedved was a player who truly had it all, and he gave it to Juventus. That is why he has never been forgotten and why he is still loved by supporters. It is why now, almost seven years after he retired, he remains part of the match-day ritual for those who truly love La Vecchia Signora.

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