No golden generation on horizon for Czechs

Vladimir Smicer was part of a golden generation that turned the Czech Republic into one of the most feared sides in Europe but a lack of young talent makes it unlikely a new crop of players will shine as bright any time soon.

Many supporters hope the former Liverpool man can conjure the kind of magic as manager of the national team as he did on the pitch when he helped lead the Czechs to the final of Euro 1996 and to the semi-finals in 2004.

But Smicer said young players moving abroad before they are ready made it a challenge to produce a national team able to achieve the kind of success he and former team-mates such as Pavel Nedved, Karel Poborsky and Patrik Berger enjoyed at big tournaments.

"The main problem for our young players is that they are leaving too early," Smicer told Reuters in an interview ahead of the tournament that kicks off on Friday in Poland and Ukraine.

"In 1996, me, Nedved, Poborsky, Berger, [Radek] Bejbel, were all playing four or five years in the Czech league before we went abroad."

All those players went on to play for big European clubs while Nedved emerged as one of the best midfielders of his era, winning the European Footballer of the Year award with Juventus in 2003.

The problem these days is after early success in the Czech league players are eager to move abroad for bigger wages, a decision that often means they end up sitting on the bench of a larger club rather than honing their skills at home.

"Now the players are having 10 or 15 good games and they think they are the best players and the Czech league is not good enough for them," Smicer said. "I think they are wrong."

Smicer acknowledges the lure of more money abroad makes it difficult to keep players at home but as Czech team manager he is working with the youth team coaches to do just that.

In Smicer's generation, a number of Czechs signed for top European clubs like Juventus, Liverpool, Chelsea and Arsenal but in recent years most of the promising players have joined lesser known clubs in Western Europe or Russia.

"We are appealing to the Under 16, Under 18 coaches to explain that it is better to stay here and to progress step by step," Smicer said.

As the Czechs prepare for their first Group A game against Russia on Friday, Smicer and coach Michal Bilek have put together a side that mainly relies on veterans of the 2004 squad like Tomas Rosicky, Petr Cech and Milan Baros.

While young strikers such as Nuremberg's Tomas Pekhart, 23, and CSKA Moscow's Tomas Necid, 22, have shown promise, they are yet to establish themselves as players ready to step up to the next level, Smicer said.

Vladimir Darida, who won his first cap in May, has created excitement but the young midfielder has only played one full season at Viktoria Plzen, Smicer said.

"We don't have the real young talent," Smicer said. "When Rosicky was young in the Euro 2000 championship we knew he would be good.

"We are not going to be a country that is on top all the time. We will definitely have good years and bad years."