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In the 70s of the last century, the well-known actor, comedian and tramp musician Jaroslav Štercl, who excelled in encyclopedic knowledge, had a brief message for representatives of the Czechoslovak national team: “How to win over … (let’s place any opponent)?” The advice is not difficult. After all, you have a lion on your chest and a Hedgehog behind your back!”
The players with the king of animals in the national emblem on their chests followed the instructions of the popular entertainer honestly, in the period 1974-1976 they did not lose in a record series of 22 games and became the rulers of the continent. The Spartan team, which won seven championship titles with him, did just as well.
Václav Ježek became an immortal legend.
A native of Slovakia
He was born on Monday, October 1 in the central Slovak town of Zvolen. His father came from Bohemia, worked as a telegraph supervisor, and found a wife in Slovakia. Little Václav kicked a ball from the age of five, when he moved to Banská Bystrica together with his parents and younger brother Miroslav, he played for the local Slavia from the age of 11, where he was coached by Eduard Gosiorovský. In addition to football, he also trained in Sokol, where he played volleyball, handball, skiing and ski jumping in the winter.
As a teenager at Slávia Banská Bystrica, he scored a lot of goals, and had a promising football future ahead of him. Upon starting his job, he worked at the Baťa company, but his football activities waned. He attended courses in Zlín, cleaned, sold and repaired shoes. Later he returned to Zvolen and got a place in the Service House. There wasn’t much time left for fun.
After the declaration of the independent Slovak state on March 14, 1939, the family had to leave, but he could stay as an employee of the Baťa company. But only until the end of the year, then he moved to Brno, to the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia. This ended his Slovak period. He returned to the east of the federation only for football matches.
However, he never forgot his birthplace. “He spoke Slovak very well and in the national team he communicated with Slovak players, journalists and officials in their mother tongue,” points out Slovak publicist Tomáš Černák.
He has a plaque with his name on the Walk of Fame in his hometown of Zvolen. He is an unforgettable personality for a city of 40,000 people.
Beloved and successful Sparta
With a not very glittering reputation – so far he only led teams in lower competitions and youth teams, he took over Sparta Prague in 1963, which was not one of the decorations of the Czechoslovak league at the time. Symbolically on October 1, the day of his fortieth birthday. But he took over the team only two months later, until then he was getting to know the players and the environment.
He introduced new elements. Two-phase training, year-round training plan, physical tests, individual plans, established a coaching council in the club. He kept careful notes on each one. He was an excellent psychologist, he knew when to shout, when to caress, when to encourage.
But he had a great start – Letenský won the title in the following year after 11 years. And two years later they added another.
Then he went out into the world. “He mainly matured there,” emphasizes Zdeněk Sivek, a renowned Czech methodologist working for FIFA. “He got to know other schools, he improved his languages, he learned how to deal with famous players,” calculates Ježko’s accumulated experience. He also went abroad on other occasions.
He returned to Sparta in the 1980s and was once again unique. He also knew how to navigate the complex tangle of political pressures in a totalitarian regime. But there was no cheating on the field. “He was constantly reading something, educating himself,” recalls one of his most famous students, Ivan Hašek.
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He angered Spartan fans when, after social changes in 1989, he moved to the role of manager in rival Slavia with Czech-American businessman Boris Korbel, when the overseas businessman failed to buy Sparta at first.
They had big plans together, they intended to create a financially strong European-level club, but the time was not yet ripe for that. The Slavic project failed and the Spartans finally forgave the beloved coach for his “betrayal”.
He is also a legend for the Leten club.
He trained the masters
In 1972, he took over the national team, which was in a very difficult period. The explosion at the 1970 World Cup in Mexico, the coming normalization, the decline in performance. He honestly and patiently built a team that eventually ruled the continent – in 1976 they became European champions.
His methods were effective and, above all, pleasant for the players. “He created the atmosphere,” remembers Antonín Panenka, the author of the Vršovice dlobák, which brought the ultimate joy in the final penalty shootout in 1976. “Together with assistant Jozef Vengloš, they hummed at us in an intelligent, friendly way. There was a lot of sitting and quite a few training sessions. At the training camp in the Tatras, we were getting fit, we always went somewhere, did a few sprints, otherwise it was mostly fun,” forward Zdeněk Nehoda adds. “Penalties were kicked, we had a friend here and there… It was after the season and he was more like preparing us so that we would be comfortable and tactically soaked,” he praises the coach’s approach even after the passage of time.
The ride was huge. In the qualifying group, the English and Portuguese were shut down, in the quarter-finals the incredibly strong Soviet Union at the time, in the semi-finals in Zagreb they were humbled by the Dutch with their total football and triple Golden Ball Johan Cruyff, in the finals in Belgrade, the world champions were the players of the Federal Republic of Germany, led by the “Emperor” Franz Beckenbauer .
Born 1 October 1923, Zvolen – 27 August 1995, PraguePlaying career: Slávia Banská Bystrica – youth team, SK Jaroměř, Dvur Králové nad Labem, SK Úpice, Spartak Hradec KrálovéCoaching career: Tatran Liberec (1953–1956), Jiskra Liberec (1956–1957), Lokomotiva Česká Lípa (1957–1959), Dukla Prague – juniors (1959–1963), Sparta Prague (1963–1969), ADO Den Haag / Netherlands (1969–1972), Czechoslovak national team (1972–1978 ), Feyenoord Rotterdam / Netherlands (1978–1982), Sparta Prague (1983–1984), FC Zurich / Switzerland (1984–1986), Sparta Prague (1986–1988, 1990–1991), Czechoslovakia national team (1993) Achievements: champion of Europe 1976, six-time champion of the Czechoslovak league
He always knew how to prepare the team. “He had a great talent for observation,” recalls Nehoda. “He saw the opponent and immediately knew exactly what to say to the player. Look, you’re being played by so-and-so, 90 percent of the time he’ll indicate that he’s going right, and then he’ll make a loop to the left. He was specific,” he appreciates Ježek’s ability to read the opponent.
When the last qualification of the federal selection for advancement to the 1994 World Cup in the USA went badly, he sat on the bench for the last duels instead of the recalled Milan Máčala. He gave hope, but it was extinguished by a goalless draw in Belgium.
He did not experience the World Championship as a coach, only as an expert observer. He was 71 years old and still showed incredible vitality. A year later, however, he left earthly life rather unexpectedly.
He was indelibly written in the chronicle of the national team, no one else has achieved such success.
His legacy lives on. A football tournament – the Václav Ježek Memorial, organized since 1994 for youth national team selections – also bears his name. This year’s winner was the Czech under-18 team, led by coach Aleš Křeček, who left behind the selections of Switzerland, Ukraine, Turkey, the USA and Slovakia.
The Czech team triumphed after eight years.