The history of Viktoria Plzen is a little like a tale from the Arabian Nights. The Czech club was founded in 1911, but major successes were hard to come by over the following decades. It was only in 2010, almost a century later, that the team started to show a surge in form which took many by surprise. In the space of three seasons, the Red and Blues won one domestic cup (2010) and two championships (2011, 2013), qualifying for the UEFA Champions League on two occasions. Captain Pavel Horvath and his team now aim to cause a stir in Europe.
In their first Champions League campaign, Plzen finished a respectable third in a group featuring Barcelona, AC Milan and BATE Borisov. Their quest to reach the last 16 is unlikely to be any easier this time, with defending title-holders Bayern Munich, Manchester City and CSKA Moscow awaiting the Czech champions. Plzen were beaten 3-0 at home by the English club on Matchday 1, but they are not giving up just yet.
A chance to shine
“They are all top European teams. We don’t get to play them every day, so it’s a dream for us and the fans. We’re happy to be able to take part,” Horvath told FIFA.com in an exclusive interview ahead of their second tie of the competition on Wednesday evening.
“Bayern are probably the best team in the world right now. They won last year and have started very well this time. We’re gaining a lot of experience and are testing ourselves against the best footballers in the world. That’s important for the players’ development. We want to give a good account of ourselves and showcase our attacking style of football. We have to fight for every point, though it certainly won’t be easy.”
Listening to Horvath, one could be forgiven for thinking he is still a novice who has not experienced a great deal in his career. Nothing could be further from the truth, however. The midfielder is 38 and counts Sporting (Portugal), Galatasaray (Turkey) and Vissel Kobe (Japan), as well as Prague rivals Sparta and Slavia, among his former clubs.
“I’m happiest in central Europe,” he admitted. “There’s no need to learn foreign languages, and I can see my friends and family on a regular basis. I had a wonderful time in Portugal and Japan though. I still have many friends there and it’s always great going back.”
Considering his success at club level and his individual ability, it is perhaps surprising that Horvath has made only 19 appearances for Czech Republic. “When I was playing in the national team, there was fierce competition for places in my position,” he said. World-class stars such as Patrik Berger, Pavel Nedved and Vladimir Smicer prevented Prague-born Horvath from enjoying a more illustrious career in the colours of the Reprezentace.
Not that he is any way resentful: “It was simply an unbelievable generation whose successes included a UEFA EURO 1996 runners-up spot and third place at EURO 2004. It’s a great honour to have played for the national team on several occasions. I have many fantastic memories of that period.”
At 38, Horvath is in the twilight of his career, but the Plzen skipper is not thinking about retirement just yet. He aims to continue playing for as long as his health allows. “I’ve achieved everything I wanted to. I’m happy to be playing in such an incredible team at such an advanced age. I reckon I will end my career here.”
Just when that day will come is anybody’s guess. Horvath has been involved in plenty of thrilling games against the world’s best but, as he told FIFA.com at the end of the interview: “There are bound to be more incredible matches in store for me.” After all, Plzen’s current adventure has only just begun.