Saturday 23 March 2019

No peace for Nedved until Juventus rule Europe again

Iconic midfielder tells Jason Burt about life as vice-president of Italian giants and why Ronaldo is a ‘perfect fit for the club’

Pavel Nedved vice chairman of Juventus. Photo: Marco Rosi/Getty Images for Lega Serie A
Pavel Nedved vice chairman of Juventus. Photo: Marco Rosi/Getty Images for Lega Serie A

Jason Burt

Pavel Nedved has a heartfelt way of describing what it would mean if, finally, Juventus won the Champions League again.

“Then,” he says. “Then I could rest in peace.”

It is said with a smile but Nedved is serious. Juventus is his second home and his second family.

There is a word that peppers his conversation as Nedved discusses his illustrious, iconic career and his role now as vice-president of the Italian giants, working closely with president Andrea Agnelli.

That word is responsabilita - which needs little translation from Italian.

“The responsibility not to let anyone down, not to disappointment anyone,” Nedved explains, through an interpreter at Juventus’ training complex ahead of their last-16 tie against Atletico Madrid tomorrow.

Nedved felt it when he played, when he pulled on the famous black and white jersey and still feels it.

“There is no difference,” he adds.

“I have always felt like this. Because I have always felt privileged. I have been able to do what I love, I have always been treated well, I have always been paid well so that’s why. I feel that I owe something; that I need to return something.

“It’s always been a great pleasure but nevertheless I do feel this responsibility.

Focus

“I can say in the past, when I was a player, it was less heavy because I could just focus on my performance. But even now, even if my role has changed, I don’t want to let anyone down.”

Nedved has a special bond with the Bianconeri. He also has a special role.

There are not many vice-presidents of clubs with the stature of Juve who were former players and not just that, but one who was signed in 2001 from Lazio for €41m – to replace Real Madrid-bound Zinedine Zidane – and enjoyed such success and status.

Nedved has remained to this day and there are two episodes in Juventus’ history that reinforce the bond.

The first is the way he inspired the club to the 2003 Champions League Final, only to be suspended after being cautioned in the semi-final win over Real Madrid for a foul on Steve McManaman.

Juventus lost the final to AC Milan on penalties and, even now, it is something Nedved really does not want to talk about.

“It was extremely disappointing,” he says, not wanting to expand on a campaign which nevertheless ended with him winning the Ballon d’Or.

After that Nedved stayed when Juventus were relegated to Serie B in 2006 following the Calciopoli scandal.

He was one of only five players, and the only non-Italian, who did.

“I have always been asked this question – whether it was difficult or not to stay in that critical moment,” Nedved says.

“And my answer has always been no. It was actually easy to stay.

“The other players who made the same decision thought the same – that is: what would have happened if we had all left the club? We decided to stay because we felt the responsibility – that word again – to return to the club exactly what we had received. The club believed in us so it was the right time to give back. That’s why it was easy.”

Nedved’s all-action, hustling, fully committed style was unmistakable with his mop of blond hair flowing as he ran; the midfielder had a powerful shot off either foot and was a fierce tackler with a fine range of passing.

He was known as the ‘Czech Fury’.

Little wonder Nedved, now 46 but who has changed little, physically, was so popular.

“I cannot explain why my relationship with fans is so strong but, possibly, it’s due to the way I see football,” Nedved says.

“I have always seen it as the result of great sacrifice, sacrifices you make every day for the victories, and hard work.

“That is what this club is based on: that hard work, that great effort, that sacrifice. And there are not many clubs like this one – there is Manchester United, Real Madrid, Barcelona and Bayern Munich because of the backgrounds they have, because of their stories.

“I have always had this kind of mentality. I learnt since I was a child growing up in a small village in the Czech Republic that I had to be like that to compete.

“There has not been a second, a minute, an hour, a day that I have missed because I always wanted to improve. I didn’t waste any time at all and I have no regrets. It was worth doing it.”

Nedved arrived in Italy after his brilliant performances in driving the Czech Republic to the final of Euro 96 in England and retired in 2009, aged 36.

“It has been an incredible journey, it went beyond my expectations. I am still living this dream – the fact that I am here, doing this job. Football is my greatest love,” Nedved says.

It was Agnelli’s father, Umberto, who took Nedved to Juventus in the first place and Andrea asked him to stay.

“I didn’t really want to get involved in the football world again straight away but when I received the proposal, I love Mr Agnelli and all his family so I could not say no,” Nedved says.

His role includes advising on transfers, talking to players, explaining what it means to play for Juventus.

“I am a quite peculiar vice-president compared to others in that part of my role is to be in daily contact with the technical staff, the coach and the players,” Nedved says.

With Juventus heading for an eighth successive Italian league title and having lost two more finals (in 2015 and 2017) since 2003, the Champions League is the target, almost an obsession.

The last time they lifted the trophy was 1996.

Nedved believes the arrival of Cristiano Ronaldo last summer from Madrid has made a significant difference to their prospects.

“It has improved the mentality,” he says.

“There always was a strong, winning mentality but there is something that he has brought which has influenced the rest of the team, that has affected them and has made them even more confident.”

Character

Has Ronaldo been what Nedved expected?

“No, he’s even more than that,” he says of the 34-year-old.

“We knew him as a player but now we know him as a person and we’ve all been really impressed by his personality, his character. He is much more than a player.

“The way I describe Juventus is that it exactly matches with him. Ronaldo is a Juventus player. It’s a perfect fit and it is the perfect mentality.”

Overcoming Atleti, led by Nedved’s former Lazio team-mate Diego Simeone, will be tough.

“It was not a surprise to me that he became a coach,” Nedved says.

“He was always a very serious person, a serious player and one who was confident. It was always very difficult to beat him; he was always very determined. Atletico Madrid certainly reflects his personality and his character.”

Nedved says of the prospect of winning the Champions League still drives him, even if it is while wearing a suit instead of a jersey.

“It would certainly make me extremely happy,” he says.

“I couldn’t win it as a player but if we managed to win it while I am part of the club that would be absolutely wonderful, it would be a remarkable achievement. And so then, then I could rest in peace.”

(© Daily Telegraph, London)

Telegraph.co.uk

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