BREAKING: Pavel Nedved at 50: Ballon d’Or winner and Serie A star who moved upstairs at Juventus
Former Juventus and Czech Republic star Pavel Nedved has avoided a move into management since retiring, but has stayed in football after some memorable moments as a player
When Luka Modric won the Ballon d’Or in 2018, it was hard not to recall Pavel Nedved picking up the same award 15 years earlier.
It’s not just that Modric was breaking the stranglehold of Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, returning us to a time when a single year – rather than that year blended with a wider reputation – could be enough to see a player take the stage. It was also a reminder that there is more to the Ballon d’Or than simply topping the goalscoring charts.
Back in 2003, Nedved beat Thierry Henry to the award, and recent years have seen fans cite the Frenchman’s record in front of goal when reflecting on the decision of the panel. It’s worth remembering it wasn’t even that close, though – of the 52 first preference votes cast, more than half went to the Czech star, and it’s easy to forget just how good he was at his peak.
Nedved burst onto the world scene at Euro 96, when he was just 23 years old. Drawn in a group alongside Germany, Italy and Russia, the Czechs were tipped to struggle, but instead made it all the way to the final and even led against Wembley before falling to Germany in extra-time.
“My style of coaching is not to stop a single player, but to stop a whole team,” Arrigo Sacchi, manager of the Italy side beaten in the group stage, said in 2011. “My theory was that if I succeeded with Diego Maradona, I would have succeeded with Nedved too.”
Ultimately, he failed to contain Nedved in that 2-1 defeat, and also failed in his efforts to bring the midfielder to Atletico Madrid a few years later. The player left Sparta Prague straight after the Euros, completing a seven-figure move to Lazio, and he developed into a Serie A star during his five years in Rome.
During his time at Lazio, Nedved helped the club end a 26-year title drought. The Scudetto arrived in the 1999-2000 campaign under Sven Goran Eriksson, with Nedved’s five goals including a vital equaliser in the derby against Roma as Eriksson’s men overturned a nine-point deficit to beat Juventus to the title.
Eriksson remained a fan of Nedved, even reportedly trying to coax him out of retirement to join Notts County nearly a decade later. And it was the Swedish manager, then in charge of the England national team, who urged Chelsea to move for him after Roman Abramovich’s takeover in 2003.
That was easier said than done, though. By that point, the midfielder was 30 and around his peak, and had continued to thrive without missing a beat after trading Lazio for Juventus as a replacement for Real Madrid-bound Zinedine Zidane.
Zidane’s first season in Spain saw him lead Los Blancos to Champions League glory – exactly what he was signed to do. One year later, though, Juve and Nedved got the upper hand, with the Czech scoring the clinching goal as the Bianconeri recovered from a first leg defeat to win 4-3 on aggregate.
Nedved wouldn’t be able to follow that up with a performance in the final, though. A yellow card in the semi saw him suspended for the game against AC Milan, and Juve were beaten on penalties in his absence.
The game at Old Trafford was one of this century’s more forgettable, with both teams drawing a blank and the Rossoneri winning 3-2 on penalties. There was a sense that Nedved might have been able to liven up a drab affair, and an even greater sense that his presence could have made a difference for Marcello Lippi’s side.
He never had the chance to make up for the disappointment, either. Juve didn’t reach another final before his retirement in 2009, and his last ever European game ended early when he limped off against Chelsea in the last 16 that year, with the English side going on to prevail 3-2 on aggregate.
Nedved’s replacement that day, Hasan Salihamidzic, has been serving as sporting director at former club Bayern Munich since hanging up his boots. Nedved has a behind-the-scenes role as well, but his is much closer to home.
He joined Juve’s board of directors in 2010 and, five years later, took on a new role as vice president. After leading by example on the pitch, he has learned about the commercial elements of the game as quickly as he picked up the skills needed to become a world-class midfielder, and was able to watch on as Juve reached their first Champions League final in more than a decade in 2015.
“Pavel has developed massively over the last five years as a board member,” president Andrea Agnelli said when the promotion to vice president was made official. “He’s now a skilled and knowledgeable member of staff and fully aware of all the various activities that go on inside the company. He possesses commercial perception and specific skills in the balance sheet analysis of a sporting business.”
During his time as vice president, Juve have continued to build, with the squad facing challenges in recent years. There have been welcome signings, with the likes of Manuel Locatelli and the returning Paul Pogba strengthening the midfield over the last two summers, while expensive recruits Cristiano Ronaldo and Aaron Ramsey have been offloaded.
They have not won the title since 2020, and have not been close to Champions League glory since defeat in the final in 2017, but there has been some more positivity ahead of a European campaign which will see them take on Paris Saint-Germain, Benfica and Maccabi Haifa in the group stage. A full 20 years after his finest season, Nedved hasn’t fallen out of love with football, but could he be ready to watch Juventus climb back among Europe’s finest one more time?..WATCH.HIGHLIGHT.HERE