Meet the Czech Republic's Brian Clough

Working wonders on a non-existent budget, getting the best out of journeyman and Champions League glory with an unfancied team. Meet Pavel Vrba the Czech version of Old Big ‘Ead.
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Working wonders on a non-existent budget, getting the best out of journeyman and Champions League glory with an unfancied team. Meet Pavel Vrba the Czech version of Old Big ‘Ead.

The main reason the incredible achievements of Brian Clough at Derby County and Nottingham Forest will always be so revered in English football is he won trophies without breaking the bank. It's the dream scenario of any Chairman or Owner.

I've seen both those clubs described as 'moderate and provincial' before being transformed by Clough - I find that description a little patronising - but neither had won the English league title before and certainly weren't awash with cash, or seen as a serious threat.

We're forever being told no one will ever do that again in English football, and while the Premier League contains a handful of billionaire owners that will almost certainly be the case.

Money is king and the gap between 'rich' and 'not so rich' is now so wide that not even managerial genius can bridge it.

That's not a criticism of those bringing some of the world's best talent to the Premier League, I enjoy watching them play as much as the next person, and every club's perfectly entitled to use whatever legal means they can to achieve success.

That said, there must be something extra special about looking at trophy cabinet full of silverware, knowing that skill, passion and determination played a bigger part than pounds, shillings and pence.

One man who'll have recently experienced that feeling is Pavel Vrba, the Head Coach of Czech Republic Champions - Viktoria Plzeň.

On Wednesday night I was lucky enough to commentate on the match that saw his club qualify for the group stage of the UEFA Champions League for the first time ever.

To achieve it they eliminated Scandinavian football royalty FC Kobenhavn (5-2 agg) - who'd been strong favourites to win the tie - having last season become the first Danish club ever to qualify for the tournament's Round of 16.

Described in the Danish press as a "team without stars" before the first leg - Viktoria Plzeň surprised many with a superb performance away from home in the 1st leg - winning 3-1 - becoming the first side to win at the Parken Stadion since Chelsea on 22nd February, something not even Barcelona managed last season.

Viktoria Plzeň had to finish the job at the Stadion Eden in Prague - around 90km from their own home ground - Stadion města Plzně - which has a reduced capacity of just 3,500, while work goes on to modernise the stadium in line with UEFA criteria.

It's a truly amazing achievement for a squad that contains just one player, captain Pavel Horvath, with previous experience in the UEFA Champions League group stage.

Just to reach the qualifying stage Pavel Vrba and his players pulled off one of the biggest shocks in the history of Czech football, by winning the league title last season for the first time in the club's 100 year history.

Just like Brian Clough at Derby and Nottingham Forest, Pavel Vrba has assembled and developed a group of players hungry to prove themselves.

I recently saw Viktoria Plzeň described as the "surprise package to end surprise packages" - a fair assessment when you consider their highest ever finish before that had been 5th the season before - a full 14 points behind 09/10 Champions Sparta Prague.

They're only the 5th winners of the Gambrinus Liga, which was formed in 1993, a league that's historically been dominated by Slavia Prague and Sparta Prague, who've won 14 of the 18 titles between them.

Pavel Vrba has successfully challenged the status quo by fostering a fantastic team spirit and attacking philosophy, since his arrival at the club in 2008, with whom he also won the Czech Football Cup in 2010.

Read any interview with a Viktoria Plzeň player and you get the feeling the whole squad's really bought into Vrba's approach.

Just like Brian Clough at Derby and Nottingham Forest, Pavel Vrba has assembled and developed a group of players hungry to prove themselves.

An example is the club's top scorer in qualification for the UEFA Champions League Group Stage - Marek Bakos is 28 and so far uncapped by his country, Slovakia, but has won the first major trophies of his career at Viktoria, since being signed from Slovak side Ruzomberok in 2009.

Although not signed by Vrba, 28 year old winger Milan Petrzela has improved greatly under his management and was pivotal to the club's UEFA Champions League qualification - four years prior, he'd been struggling to establish himself at Sparta Prague.

Midfielder Petr Jiracek has just received his first call-up to the Czech Republic squad at the age of 25, following three years under the management of Vrba.

Few would have believed these players could achieve so much success, just like when Clough signed the likes of Roy McFarland, John O'Hare and John McGovern for Derby County.

Success, of course, brings new challenges for a manager, including how best to utilise the added revenue that it generates, whilst retaining the same team spirit and ethos.

Clough managed that superbly, paying big fees (for the time) for the likes of Trevor Francis and Peter Shilton - and integrating them brilliantly into his Nottingham Forest side.

This is something that Vrba will now have to do, on a lesser scale, at Viktoria Plzeň, after admitting UEFA Champions League qualification has put the club on "another level".

To know where you are heading though, it's important to remember where you've come from - and before the second leg against Kobenhavn, Vrba said; "If three years ago somebody had said we'd be here now, playing a decisive game to reach the UEFA Champions League in front of a full house, I'd have said they were crazy."

That, in a nutshell, is why football fans love stories like Viktoria Plzeň's, and why the romantic within many of us wishes it could still happen in some of Europe's more high profile leagues.

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