Precision from Prague: Patrik Berger

Adam Brown

There’s a common theme amongst some of the Czech Republic’s greatest midfielders: at some point in their careers, the English capital has come calling. This is no different for one of the country’s icons who spent over a decade in the Premier League: Patrik Berger. 

Although Berger was a product of Sparta Prague’s academy, it was Slavia Prague who the future Premier League attacker would begin his professional career with. Playing alongside future Liverpool midfielder, Vladimir Smicer, the tall left-footed winger quickly established himself in the Czech leagues, as a player who could threaten if given an inch of space.

Even the camera was shocked when that one flew in.

The football world soon took notice of Berger’s magical left foot, so it wasn’t long before the Prague man found himself in the national team’s colours – thanks to politics: first for Czechoslovakia and then the Czech Republic.

Arguably, Berger was part of his nation’s best ever period, the squad in 2000 added Tomas Rosicky and Jan Koller to the 1996 European Championship side which finished runners up – a duo which would have been massive in the final against Germany where Berger played alongside future Ballon d’Or winner, Pavel Nedved.

When thinking of left wingers, especially in today’s era of football, not many fit into the category of the Prague midfielder; great in stature, unrivalled technical ability, yet, still, a powerful and gifted dribbler.

Gareth Bale comes to mind, but as the Welshman is quicker, realistically, Berger’s ability was somewhere between the scale of Gareth Bale to Marko Arnautovic. Of course, in terms of beating defenders and pace, the Madrid forward excels much more – but what about technical ability? Berger’s free-kicks were just as impressive.

It was goals like this which has cemented the Czech man’s legacy at Anfield. The Bundesliga winner soon attracted interest from England – and didn’t forget his wand when making the move to Merseyside.

Is this the best goal of the former Liverpool man’s career? It’s certainly up there. Most players attempting a volley of such difficulty would result in an inevitable “wheyyyy” from the crowd – and those not mocking the wayward shot are the supporters protecting themselves from a ball flying towards row z.

A big game player; Berger announced himself to the Liverpool with frequent goals in big games, including a hat-trick against Chelsea. But also, contributing to Liverpool’s Treble in 2001 under Gerard Houllier – assisting Michael Owen to win the FA Cup Final.

The Czech winger added something different to the Liverpool team. It’s rare that a traditional winger is able to threaten from both sides of the pitch, as well as from range. A player that left defenders like Tony Hibbert bamboozled.

Usually, the only thing defenders would have to worry about is pace – showing a quick winger outside to contain the player from deep – but with players like Patrik Berger, how much space could you give?  The wide-midfielder from Prague only needed the slightest of angles to unleash an accurate left-footed strike into the goal.

The winger who had scored an impressive 18 goals in 40 caps for his country was part of an era of Czech’s finest. But notably, there were visible similarities between the play-styles of the Eastern European’s.

From Berger to Nedved, Rosicky, and Poborsky, the Czech Republic was creating players with impeccable technical ability. Precision from Prague.

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