Czech football has gained worldwide recognition and respect, especially since 1996, when nothing but Oliver Bierhoff's golden goal separated the Czech national squad from becoming European champions in England. Subsequent brilliant performances both at home and abroad by Czech players and trainers have proven that this country has earned a place among the world's finest football nations. This edition of Czechs Today is devoted to one such Czech sportsman. Jiri Plisek left Prague and moved to the capital of Bosnia-Herzegovina, to coach one of the country's best football teams. Maida Agovic visited the Czech coach in Sarajevo.
Thirty-three-year-old Jiri Plisek signed a two-year contract with the FC Zeljeznicar from Sarajevo, leaving his position with the Czech Republic's Under-16 team. He had also coached the junior squad of Prague's Slavia, and was assistant coach of the Czech Under-19 national team. That was until six months ago, when he was offered a coaching position in the Bosnian capital:
"I came here at the beginning of June 2004 after receiving an offer from the President of the Club Zeljeznicar Sarajevo. I decided to take this position because I saw strong motivation and ambition here to create something new. Of course, there were also other things that appealed to me: it was a new kind of experience - personal, social, and football of course."
Only nine years after the end of a devastating war in Bosnia, the decision of the Czech coach to move to Sarajevo came as more than a small surprise. With a smile on his face, he tells me about the initial reaction of his family and friends:
"When I decided to go to Bosnia, everybody was astonished about what I wanted to do there. But I looked at it as a new and unique experience, since the problematic conditions prevailing in Bosnia today cannot be found anywhere else in Europe, and what I can gain here, I cannot get anywhere else."
And, as Jiri Plisek has had a chance to observe, life in Sarajevo is different from life in Prague, especially in the case of football:
"People here are much more emotional, and their experiences of victory or defeat in a game are much more profound than is the case in the Czech Republic. This is especially true at times of a Sarajevo derby. There is a tradition here that, if Zeljeznicar wins, all the town's garages are painted blue - the club color, and if the rival team, FC Sarajevo, wins, then the garages are painted red. I even heard about a legend that the same is done with dogs as well, but I haven't seen that yet."
But despite the differences, or perhaps because of them, Jiri Plisek has learned to like the life and people of Sarajevo. He made new friends among the local people, and even learned the Bosnian language.
But a desire for new experiences and adventures was not the only reason for Mr. Plisek's choice to go to Sarajevo:
"I didn't look at it only from the perspective of a complicated situation in this country after the war. I knew that Zeljeznicar is a historical club, and I saw a chance to help this club get back to the European scene where it belongs, get it back to the high level where it was 20 years ago."
"At the beginning of the season many people were saying that we don't even have a chance of going for the first place, but we want to win the title, and our results so far show that we are capable of it."
Indeed they do. Under Plisek's leadership, Zeljeznicar managed to move from the middle to the top of the table.
I spoke to two of the club's best and most experienced players, Almir Gredic and Admir Kajtaz, and they speak for the whole team when they say that they are thankful and supportive of their new coach, his achievements and goals:
Gredic: "Coach Plisek is not much older than us players, but it was clear from the first day that he's a man who obviously understands his job well, and we are doing our best to put his words and visions into action on the field. At the beginning of this season we didn't even have the goal of reaching the top of the league, but we are now in the lead and, together with coach Plisek, we will continue fighting for the trophy."
Unfortunately, the remarkable success and widespread support of the team are obviously not enough - Jiri Plisek was relieved of his duty as the coach of FC Zeljeznicar last week, just a few days after our interview.
But even when he was talking to me, he was painfully aware of the serious problems plaguing the club, and the fact that his future in Zeljeznicar was hanging by a thread.
He told me there was a small, but very influential group of people within the club's management that were resisting the introduction of a more transparent way of doing business at Zeljeznicar. With the immediate issue at stake being privatization of the club, Plisek claims that all means seem to be justified in the struggle for power:
"At the moment, there is a huge war in the club between two groups of people: one group that brought me here, which wanted to make Zeljeznicar a strong European football club again, and on the other side there are people that have used this club for the past eight years only for their own personal interest. But now we came here and took charge of the finances, ending their monopoly over the club's dealings. The situation is very, very tense, because many influential people from the political and economic spheres of the country are involved in this affair."
Almir Gredic, one of the players, confirms:
"It's true. Whenever there is someone ambitious who wants to change and reform the way that things are done at the club, a small minority in the management blocks such a move. We have already had one young coach with a vision recently who had to leave exactly because of that pressure."
Despite the shock of his dismissal last week, Jiri Plisek is still formally tied to Sarajevo's football club Zeljeznicar. And he has already appealed to the football federation FIFA for the decision to be investigated.
But the complicated situation has not stopped him from looking for a new coaching position. The latest rumors suggest - and they are confirmed by Mr. Plisek himself - that he might soon be moving back to Prague's Slavia.
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