Sparta Prague are currently undergoing some major cosmetic surgery, and as the bandages are being slowly peeled away I am beginning to like what I see. Gone is the prehistoric and deadpan general manager that was Jozef Chovanec, a legendary player and respected coach, but severely lacking in charisma and charm.
The snarling centre back Tomas Repka has also left the club, which immediately makes the place feel a lot more welcoming, I should even imagine the grass at Letna has a more vibrant colour about it.
It’s bizarre to think of a team top of the league would sack their general manager and overhaul the coaching team. But that’s exactly what was needed at Sparta, a change of direction, fresh faces and a new impetus. Even Pavel Srníček has arrived as goal keeping coach and everyone loves Pavel Srníček right?
Jaroslav Hřebík answered Sparta’s call to return as general manager, despite it ruining his wifes plans for a vacation (recent interview with isport.cz) “I do not think it was a shock for many people [returning to Sparta]. The shock was so just for my wife as we had three paid holidays!”
Whilst Hřebík is keen to be seen as easy going and offers a more relaxed approach to interviews he also conveys a serious coach who knows how to setup a successful team.
Hřebík was the brains behind the last great Sparta side back in 2001, everyone in the country at the time will remember the epic battle with Real Madrid, losing 3-2 was unjust but there was no shame in losing the best team in Europe. That Real side went on to win the Champions League that season and boasted the likes of Zidane, Morientes, Salgado, Raul, Casillas etc.
Sparta’s winter training has also taken a different path this season. Instead of the arduous mountain training most Czech sides like to employ Hrebik and his coaching team have opted for more practical sessions, involving ball work and tactics, something which the players seem to appreciate “We train an interesting way. Everything we do with the ball. It’s better than running in the snow somewhere in the woods. We are footballers, not endurance runners, it’s a pleasant change,” said Marek Holek after their friendly 2-1 victory over Střížkov.
Personally, I never understood the point of mountain training for footballers, unless they are trying to shed the excess weight piled on over Christmas but I can’t imagine carp to be that high in fat? Surely working on tactics and working together as a team on the training pitch is more productive.
Coach Martin Hasek explained that the team have been experimenting with different systems and style of play over the winter break. “We tried a couple of elements, but not just remake everything. We were trying to push opponents out of our half to hold twenty meters, which we sometimes managed better, sometimes worse.”
Whilst the future looks promising for Sparta, some things just remain a constant here in Prague as Slavia failed to score and lost 1-0 in a friendly today to Druha Liga side Sezimovo Usti. Ho-hum. Business as usual then.