Michal Kadlec has packed a lot into the first 25 years of his life. The Czech international, who plays his club football for Bayer Leverkusen, was born in what is now the Czech Republic, but grew up in Germany. He joined the professional ranks only after going back to his country of birth, although he would return to the Rhineland before finally making the breakthrough on the international scene.
"I was born in Czechoslovakia, but came to Germany at the age of five because my father [Miroslav Kadlec] joined Kaiserslautern in 1990. I learned German in kindergarten and I went to grammar school after that. I started playing at a small local club, and I also tried my hand at tennis,” Kadlec recalled in an exclusive FIFA.com interview.
After eight years in Germany, the Kadlec family returned to the Czech Republic. "I didn’t want to leave Kaiserslautern, but my parents decided it was time to go home. They wanted me to graduate from school in the Czech Republic, but all my friends were in Kaiserslautern. It was very difficult for me at first, partly due to the switch in languages, but it improved all the time. And I came on very well as a footballer there too,” the left-sided player said.
Kadlec, a versatile defender who stands 1.84m tall, readily acknowledges the inspirational role in his career played by his father, who captained the Czech side in the UEFA EURO 1996 final at Wembley. "My father introduced me to the game. I had a ball at my feet even while still learning to walk. Naturally, he was my role model too. Once I’d seen him play for Kaiserslautern, I said to myself: 'At some point, I want to do that too.' I had to make sacrifices as a youth, especially with my free time, but I took the decision and stuck with it."
I’m fit again now, and I feel even better than I did two years ago.
At the age of 13, Kadlec joined the youth section at top flight outfit FC Slovacko. Just three years later, he was considered good enough to start training with the pros, and his Gambrinus Liga debut followed not long afterwards.
"I made the first-team squad at FC Slovacko when I was only 16. It was a very demanding period for me, because I was still at school. I was determined to finish high school with a university entrance qualification, and it all worked out in the end, thanks to the support of my parents, teachers and coaches. I made my debut away to Ostrava. I was very nervous, and it was only a brief appearance, but it went well,” Kadlec recalled.
The defender spent three years learning the pro trade with Slovacko, before treading a well-worn path to the capital and joining Sparta Prague. The player was 21 when he arrived at the big-name outfit in 2005, and it was another major challenge.
"It was a huge change, because it was the first time I’d been completely on my own. Before that, I’d always had my family around me for support, but obviously, it was totally different in Prague. I was the only one responsible for eating healthily and doing my own washing. I suffered a few setbacks in my football too, but when my chance came along, I took it,” Kadlec related.
Sparta won the league and the cup twice with Kadlec in the team, before Leverkusen came in for the pacy defender and secured his signature in the summer of 2008.
"Moving from Prague to Leverkusen wasn’t that much of a change. I’d played European football with Sparta, so I had a fairly good idea of what to expect. Obviously, it was a major advantage that I already knew the language, and the Leverkusen players were really helpful. They gave me a warm welcome and I settled at once. My first season was very good indeed, but I had problems with injury in my second campaign. I’m fit again now, and I feel even better than I did two years ago,” he said.
It's always hard to break these teams down, because they pull everyone back and defend.
The current season has started promisingly for the men from the BayArena. Seven games into the Bundesliga campaign, Leverkusen lie fourth in the standings, and are through to the second round in the German Cup. Bayer also remain undefeated in the UEFA Europa League.
Kadlec is a regular both for his club and for the Czech Republic, but in stark contrast to Bayer, the national team is currently in the doldrums after opening their UEFA EURO 2012 qualifying campaign with a dismal 1-0 home defeat to Lithuania.
"None of us are getting any younger. I think we’re having problems because younger players haven’t been brought into the side quickly enough in the past. These mistakes are going to be hard to correct, although most of our recent results have actually been OK. But then we go and lose at home to Lithuania, a game we’ve really got to be winning. It was a serious setback and a very poor start to qualifying. However, we’re not exactly out of it yet,” Kadlec declared.
Coach Michal Bilek and his men have a first opportunity to get their campaign back on track in a home meeting with Scotland this Friday. The next stage in the long journey to a berth in Poland and Ukraine in 2012 is the visit to minnows Liechtenstein four days later.
"Back in March, we lost 1-0 in a friendly away to Scotland, but as so often, we were the better team on the night. And we’re taking nothing for granted against Liechtenstein. The smaller nations are improving all the time. It's always hard to break these teams down, because they pull everyone back and defend. You have to be on your guard the whole time. But I still think we have it in us to win both games,” Kadlec concluded.