Sparta Prague’s bid for success with foreign football manager explodes

Top Czech football club Sparta Prague has sacked its Italian manager and ended what is a relatively rare local experiment with a foreign coach in charge. The club has now returned to form and hired a Czech coach with the task of salvaging the rest of the season.

Andrea Stramaccioni, photo: CTKAndrea Stramaccioni, photo: CTK For the last weeks it has often not been a question of if but when Sparta’s Italian coach Andrea Stramaccioni would be fired. The breaking point for club bosses apparently came on Sunday during the 1:1 home draw against Brno. Media reports describe a blazing changing room row between the 42-year-old Italian and Sparta’s director of Sport, Zdeněk Ščasný. Afterwards, Stramaccioni said it was impossible to continue. The sacking was announced on Tuesday.

Backtrack to May last year and the plot appeared very different. The relatively young 42-year-old Italian with stints as manager at top Italian clubs Inter Milan and Udinese as well as Greek club Panathinaikos was supposed to be a breath of fresh air and introduce an international revolution at the club. Czech clubs have traditionally shied away from foreign managers, apart from Slovaks, and the number of such appointments at top clubs could probably be counted on one hand.

Stramaccioni splurged out with a series of expensive signings of foreign players which transformed the Sparta squad. It’s said that English became the common language in the changing room and on the pitch for players.

On the pitch though there were few signs of a pay-off from the big signings. Sparta, historically the most successful club in the Czech and Czechoslovak top league, struggled to find the goal and string together results with the football often looking disjointed and confused.

Stramaccioni’s eventual league balance sheet was nine wins, six draws, and four defeats. They are now fifth in the league with 33 points and a massive 14 point gap on the league leaders, Plzeň, who also have a game in hand. Sparta crashed out of the Europa League in the third round after being beaten by Red Star Belgrade.

Pavel Hapal, photo: CTKPavel Hapal, photo: CTK Sparta have announced what they hope is a fairly safe pair of Czech hands to salvage the rest of the season which translates as 11 more league fixtures. That person is Pavel Hapal, a former Sparta player who has been manager of the Slovak Under 21 team. Hapal said in a news conference that he did not have to think twice when the Sparta offer came through on Sunday night:

ʺOf course, it’s possible to turn down any offer but Sparta is historically the best club in the Czech Republic and so I didn’t think too long. I did think about whether the Slovak football association would release me and that was my main thought.ʺ

Most of assistants will leave with the Italian as well. Hapal added the players should also reflect on their responsibility for what’s happened:

ʺI believe that the players should consider what’s happened. The players also bear some of the responsibility for the sacking of Stramaccioni as manager and it’s a reflection on all the players. They should think on that. We will work though on making Sparta a success again.ʺ