On 1 January 1993, Czechoslovakia separated peacefully into two new countries, the Czech Republic and Slovakia. For the avoidance of any political ambiguity, today’s edition of the Euro 2020 Celtic Connections combines players who were born in the Czech Republic and what was previously Czechoslovakia.
The Czech’s face the Netherlands at 5pm this evening, knowing that victory would pair them with Denmark in the Quarter-Final. Both teams have enjoyed a solid group campaign, but naturally the Netherlands are strong favourites. In terms of Celtic connections in the match, the Bhoys have enjoyed a great link with Dutch football, particularly with the likes of Virgil Van Dijk and Pierre Van Hooijdonk. However, the Czech Republic/Czechoslovakia has also been kind to the Hoops.
Czech twins Filip and Patrik Twardzik played a handful of games for Celtic in recent seasons, whilst Milan Misun arrived in Glasgow with high hopes but left without making an appearance. Filip played five times for the club and now plies his trade as a defender for Spartak Trnava in the Slovak Super Liga, his brother Patrik is languishing in the fourth tier of German football with Germania Halberstadt, and Misun is currently a centre half for FK Baník Sokolov in the third tier of Czech football (the Bohemian Football League). Aside from those players, who didn’t make the grade at Paradise, there have been three Czechoslovakians who have stood out and will be recalled by all supporters. Here’s how we rank them:
3. Jiri Jarosik
Jiri Jarosik signed for Celtic in the summer of 2006 for a fee in the region of £2m. He joined from Birmingham City, but had recently won the Premier League title with Chelsea and was thus considered to be a bargain at that price. Even prior to his time in England, Jarosik played for notable clubs such as CSKA Moscow and Sparta Prague. Despite his ability, it didn’t really work out for the man born in Czechoslovakia. He made just over 30 appearances before departing for Russian club Samara in January 2008. However, he will be fondly remembered for scoring the equalising goal against Shakhtar Donetsk in the Champions League, during Celtic’s dramatic 2-1 victory over the Ukrainian outfit. He also struck the decisive goal in a 2-1 victory over Hearts at Tynecastle, found the net in Copenhagen during Celtic’s 3-1 Champions League defeat, and left the club as a Scottish League and Cup double winner.
Commenting on his Celtic career had come to an end, Jarosik said: “The Shakhtar game was my best moment at Celtic. That night was like every European game at Celtic Park. The fans are the best in the world. I loved all of those games, but to be the man who is responsible for that noise is a wonderful thing.”
2. Stanislav Varga
Stan Varga came to Celtic on trial after falling out of favour at Sunderland in 2003. After a successful training period at Barrowfield, he joined the Hoops on a permanent basis and went on to make over 100 appearances, scoring 14 goals, before re-joining Sunderland three years later. A regular for the Slovakian national team, Varga was a hero in Bratislava, but came to the attention of British football due to his height and aerial prowess. He certainly fit the Martin O’Neill mold of big defenders and became an integral part of a very strong team in the 2003/04 season. Indeed, he played in the UEFA Cup run, which saw Celtic eliminate Barcelona before being knocked out by Villarreal in the Quarter Final. On the domestic front, he was an ever-present too and notably scored a header against Rangers at Celtic Park in 2004. Although, he did miss a golden chance at Ibrox on Beachball Sunday, when he struck the crossbar from a yard out!
Varga won two league titles, two Scottish Cups and a League Cup with Celtic, and played in what was probably the last top class Celtic team at European level.
1. Lubomir Moravcik
This genius needs no introduction, for he is simply remembered as ‘a gift from God’. Lubo was an unknown quantity when he signed for Celtic and was even vilified by some in the press. However, people soon realised that the then 33 year old was no journeyman and instead began to marvel at an incredibly talented footballer, who had an unbelievable first touch, the ability to score goals from anywhere and was perhaps the most two footed player ever to ply his trade in Britain. Two weeks after making his debut, Lubo scored two goals against Rangers during a 5-1 Glasgow Derby victory, in November 1998. He played a huge part in re-establishing Celtic as Scotland’s dominant club and won the treble with the Hoops in the famous 2000/01 season.
Age finally caught up with Lubo in the summer of 2002, when he left to play football in Japan. Yet, he departed as nothing short of a Celtic legend, who mesmerized the nation with his technical ability and lifted five major trophies at Parkhead. He has been back to Paradise many times and the mutual love between Lubo and the Celtic faithful continues to endure. This is perhaps best summed up by the following quote:
“My favourite time, my most special time, was at Celtic. I spent more than three and a half years there and I couldn’t have asked for more. People appreciated me and, maybe, some fans even loved me. They said I was a ‘gift from God’ but it was the opposite – Celtic was a gift from God to me.
“Celtic is unique. I left the club in 2002 but I haven’t been forgotten. When I am on holiday in Spain, playing golf, the Celtic supporters approach me and ask for a photo or to talk about Celtic. It still amazes me.
“As a kid growing up I wanted to play in the World Cup for my country. I was then lucky to play in an Old Firm game. We beat Rangers 5-1 at Parkhead in 1998 under Dr Venglos. When the Champions League started in 1992 I wanted to play in it for a club. Celtic gave me that opportunity.
“The most memorable occasion was when I played against Juventus in the Champions League. We won 4-3. Martin O’Neill gave me my first start in that tournament. I made the most of the moment. I was subbed near the end and I will never forget the standing ovation I received from the Celtic supporters. I am very lucky.”