Czech Republic qualified for the FIFA World Cup™ for the first time since the break-up of the former Czechoslovakia in 2006. At the tournament in Germany, then 27-year-old David Jarolim was a valued member of the squad, without ever achieving regular playing time under coach Karel Bruckner.
Four years down the line, the midfielder’s personal status has undergone a transformation, but so have the national team’s fortunes - not, however, for the better. Following Bruckner’s departure in June 2008, no fewer than three coaches - Petr Rada, Frantisek Straka and Ivan Hasek – tried their luck at reviving the side, yet to no avail. After failing to emerge from their group at UEFA EURO 2008, the Czechs came up short in qualifying for South Africa 2010, finishing behind neighbours Slovakia and Slovenia in their pool.
It's a new start for all of us. We’re totally motivated and determined to qualify for the European Championship.
The coaching reins have now been passed to Michal Bilek, a former Czechoslovakia international and member of their Italy 1990 squad. The 45-year-old took up the challenge of guiding Czech Republic into calmer waters last October.
Nowadays, Jarolim appears the kind of seasoned leader Bilek is likely to turn to in the transition process. At 31, the midfielder rates as one of his country's most experienced players.
"It's hard for me to assess my role in the national team," Jarolim, who has 29 caps to his name, told FIFA.com. "We have a new coach and he’s still experimenting. It's too early to say with any certainty how my role in the national team might work out."
Jarolim and Co cannot afford the same reticence and reserve when it comes to qualifying for EURO 2012 in Poland and Ukraine, as they have been grouped with reigning world and European champions Spain. They also meet a young Scotland team determined to return to the international spotlight at long last, with Lithuania and Liechtenstein completing the Group I line-up. However, the Hamburg player does not feel he and his Czech team-mates will suffer from a lack of confidence following their inability to reach South Africa 2010.
"It's a new start for all of us," Jarolim said. "We’ve been drawn against tough opponents, especially the Spanish. That'll be an exceptionally difficult job but anything can happen in football. We’re totally motivated and determined to qualify for the European Championship."
It’s always great to be playing in Europe. We’ll miss it this season, but maybe it’ll turn to our advantage.
However, Jarolim has suffered a frustrating time on the field of play recently. As well as Czech Republic's poor FIFA World Cup qualifying campaign, Hamburg blew a promising start in the 2009/10 German Bundesliga and finished a disappointing seventh, missing out on this term’s UEFA Europa League, a competition in which they were beaten semi-finalists the previous season. The holding midfielder is thus all the more determined to lay out his credentials in the domestic league and cup this campaign.
"It's always important to be playing regularly for your club, ideally in a role with plenty of responsibility," Jarolim stated. "I’ve always taken on a leadership role with Hamburg, which hasn’t necessarily been the case for the national team. My priority now is to cement my personal position at the club so I can step up to a similar role for the national team."
The player is not convinced Hamburg’s absence from the European stage is a disadvantage: "The fact is that we made the semi-finals of a European competition two seasons in a row. That cost a lot of energy and we paid the price in the Bundesliga, although obviously it’s always great to be playing in Europe. We’ll miss it this season, but maybe it’ll turn to our advantage by the end."
Jarolim also reckons to have worked out the formula for success in the new campaign. "After 34 games, I hope we’ve finished higher up the league than last season," he said. "For that to happen, we’ll have to recapture the form we showed in the first half of last season, and play to our potential in every game. If so, we’ll be more successful than we were last time.”