This article is part of The Guardian Euro 2020 Expert Network, a cooperation between some of the best media organizations from the 24 countries that qualified. theguardian.com is running trailers from two countries each day in the run-up to the tournament start on June 11.
Tomas Soucek’s career was not going in the direction that he and his father, Frantisek, expected. While playing for Slavia Prague against Vysocina Jihlava, he stepped on the ball, fell and his clumsiness caused opponents to score.
Shortly after, he was loaned out to Viktoria Zizkov of the Czech second division. The club was struggling financially: they had no money, there were difficulties in the boardroom and they had very poor training facilities.
Soucek recalls: “We practiced among the dog poop in the park near the main stadium. The players had no salary, they borrowed money from their parents and friends ”. However, it was also in Viktoria that he met the coach who would make him a true footballer: Jindrich Trpisovsky.
The trainer did not initially trust him, but there is a Czech proverb roughly equivalent to English of “don’t look at a gift horse in the mouth” and Ivan Hornik, the sporting director, knew he had to convince Trpisovsky to stay with Soucek. in the team. Hornik, it seems, may have seen beyond physical discomfort to see talent.
Soucek’s vision as a child is a clumsy player that many did not think he would make as a footballer. He always possessed the qualities to succeed at the highest level; His height; his head, his score, his defense, but he was never guaranteed to make it to the top.
Soucek came from a small town. Frantisek was a soccer coach and initially coached Tomas at the fourth division Havlickuv Brod. For youth teams, Soucek played an age group. He was taller and stronger than his teammates and enjoyed playing up front and scoring goals. He reflects that his athleticism came from his mother, Iva, who used to play handball.
“For the last 15 years she has been running half marathons and marathons and sometimes when she was younger I would accompany her to the woods,” he told The Guardian in October 2020. “I am a footballer and I don’t like too much space without intensity but sometimes when he was in preseason he would go jogging in the woods with her. I think I got my stamina from her. She was brilliant. I think he won the park marathon, ”he said in October 2020.
Soucek joined Slavia Prague at the age of 10 and it was his father who took him to training sessions twice a week. The whole family made sacrifices and had to work hard to settle in Slavia. He entered the senior team, but was not considered an incredible talent.
He was loaned out, not only to Viktoria Zizkov but also to Slovan Liberec, after current Czech coach Jaroslav Silhavy preferred Michael Ngadeu as a defensive midfielder. However, after Trpisovsky, Soucek’s former coach at Viktoria Zizkov, was named Silhavy’s successor at Slavia in 2017, Soucek’s fortunes began to turn.
The date worked for everyone and Slavia hasn’t looked back. They won the title in 2017 and 2019 and impressed in Europe, went far in the Europa League and then qualified for the Champions League group stage, where they and Soucek in particular impressed in a devilishly tough group alongside three former champions. , Barcelona, Inter and Borussia Dortmund.
Soucek’s career stats were particularly impressive. In four Champions League games he ran more than 50 km and in one of his first games with West Ham after signing for Slavia Prague initially on loan in January 2020, he scored 13.1 km against Manchester City, the furthest he had run a Hammers player in a match for more than six years.
“Maybe I was one of the tallest in kindergarten, but since I was younger I told myself that I wanted to cover all the squares of the field,” he said in the same interview in 2020. “I wanted to help my boys in all the situations “. so the longer legs helped. It suits my style and prepared me for the way I play even now. “
“He is our computer,” Trpisovsky used to say, describing Soucek’s role. “He’s great tactically, our most important player in open play and in set pieces offensively and defensively. We need him to put pressure on the ball, we need him in preparation and we need him to score. “
In Slavia he went from being a purely defensive midfielder to an all-rounder who won the Golden Boot in the Czech league. Its success aroused the interest of the most important clubs. Spartak Moscow wanted him, as well as the Serie A and Bundesliga clubs, but West Ham won the battle.
Now, at 26, his talent is well recognized. His head, his punts, his tackles, his energy and of course his goals have helped West Ham go from being a relegation fighter to fighting for a place in Europe. Soucek was an untrained thoroughbred, but he was able to overcome the barriers he faced. This summer, the Euro will be your biggest challenge, but it is one that you are enjoying. Soucek is ready for the big stage.
Jan Podrouzek writes for iSport
Follow him on Twitter @JanPodrouzek
For a tactical guide to the Czech Republic, click here.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism