Miroslav Kadlec rates as one of the most successful players ever to emerge from the former Czechoslovakia. Following the nation's split into two separate countries, the elegant defender became captain of the Czech Republic and led his team all the way to the final of UEFA EURO 1996, the greatest triumph in the young association’s footballing history.
Sixteen years later, Kadlec’s son Michal is seeking to follow in his father's footsteps. Just like his dad, the Bayer Leverkusen left-back has become a fixture in the German top flight and his national team, and is now set for his second shot at European glory.
“I definitely inherited my father's genes, but my development as a player has always been in my own hands. At the end of the day, it's not very often that a father and later on a son make it in the national team and the Bundesliga. We can be proud of that," the 27-year-old exclusively told FIFA.com.
My surname was actually more of a disadvantage, because people have certain expectations of the son of a famous footballer.
The path from village club Alsenborn, where Kadlec first stepped out onto a football pitch, to seasoned professional with last season's Bundesliga runners-up has been far from easy. Somewhat counter-intuitively, a famous last name has actually been a hindrance at times, the player reported.
“My surname was actually more of a disadvantage, because people have certain expectations of the son of a famous footballer. But it was something I always anticipated. I managed to silence the critics and go my own way, and it's fantastic that it's worked out so well," the defender said, rightly proud of his career to date.
The left-sided player has been with Leverkusen since 2008, after winning the Czech league and cup twice apiece with Sparta Prague. Kadlec has yet to pick up a winner's medal in Germany, and his fourth season in the Bundesliga will not now yield silverware either.
“The first half of the season wasn't good, and we've recently slipped below our normal form again,” he explained. “We have to return to winning ways immediately to be sure we qualify directly for the Europa League. It matters a lot to our international players, because we’ll head for the EURO feeling much better about ourselves,” explained the man capped 33 times by his country.
From reserve to regular
This summer's showdown in Poland and Ukraine will be Kadlec’s second major tournament, as he was a member of the Czech squad at EURO 2008 in Switzerland and Austria. However, he was restricted to a single ten-minute cameo appearance in the final group match against Turkey, which ended in a dramatic 3-2 defeat for the east Europeans and a premature trip home.
Things have changed since then, as Kadlec appeared in all ten qualifying fixtures and even finished as his team's top scorer on four goals. These days, he is one of the first names on coach Michal Bilek’s team sheet.
“Four years ago, I was just delighted to be there," he told FIFA.com, “but obviously it's different now. I've taken on a different role within the team. Anyone who's played all the way through qualification has to be looking forward to the EURO even more."
The mood in the dressing room is outstanding at the moment, and we have to build on that. We could go a very long way at the EURO.
On paper, the Czechs have landed in the easiest of the four groups alongside Russia, Greece and co-hosts Poland. “We finally had a bit of luck with the draw. It's a manageable group and there are no obvious favourites," Kadlec reflected.
Assuming he and his team-mates make it that far, the amiable player already knows who he would like to meet in the quarter-finals. “Germany would be a dream, although they’re obviously extremely strong. Naturally, I'd prefer Denmark, but there are no easy opponents at the European championship. It was similar in 1996. We knocked out some big-name teams and made it all the way to the final," he remarked.
Kadlec senior and company certainly upset the form book in England. After losing their opening match 2-0 to Germany, the Czechs beat Italy 2-1 and then progressed from the group with a 3-3 draw against Russia. Rated as underdogs from the start, the Czechs squeezed past Portugal in the quarter-finals by the only goal of the game, and sensationally beat France 6-5 on penalties in the semi-finals, before again falling to the Germans 2-1 thanks to a golden goal in extra time.
But can the current generation emulate that achievement this coming summer? “There's a new spirit and motivation in the team, and overall, we’re more consistent,” Kadlec argued. “We took a great deal of criticism, but more recently we've shown we're solid and in good form, although it's important no-one gets injured. The mood in the dressing room is outstanding at the moment, and we have to build on that. We could go a very long way at the EURO," the player predicted. Kadlec is certainly not short on confidence as he seeks to follow in the footsteps of his famous father.