Having first arrived from Sparta Prague back in 1996, Pavel Nedved has graced the Italian game with distinction for 12 years. In five seasons at Lazio, he disputed 137 Serie A and 45 European matches, including 23 in the UEFA Champions League, and since making his way to Juventus in 2001 he has represented the Bianconeri 190 times in the domestic top flight and 50 times in Europe's leading club competition.
Before announcing his international retirement in 2006, the 36-year-old Cheb native made 91 appearances for Czech Republic. Catching up with him for an exclusive interview at Juve's training centre in Vinovo, FIFA.com found the attacking midfielder in relaxed mood, keen to speak openly about his past, present and dreams for the future.
FIFA.com: Pavel, why did you opt for another season at Juventus?
Pavel Nedved: After two years away, to play in the Champions League again was really tempting. Added to that, the generation coming through, led by Sebastian Giovinco and Claudio Marchisio, are getting their first taste of the Champions League. It's never easy to get started at this level because the rhythm never lets up, with two games a week and top-quality opposition. The club offered me an extension so I could help them out with my experience. The challenge attracted me.
This is your eighth season in Turin. What has been your favourite memory so far?
The 2002/03 season was the most complete, with us winning the scudetto and reaching the Champions League final. The semi-final against Real Madrid will remain a great memory, as much due to the prestige of our opponents and the intensity surrounding the game as to the great football we played.
There have also been harder times. How well did you cope with relegation into Serie B?
That was very tough. After everything the club had made possible for me, I felt I owed them. Because of that, staying was a completely natural choice. We've been rewarded for those two years of work with our promotion to Serie A and return to the Champions League.
What exactly do you feel Juventus have done for you? And what have you done for them?
Juventus have given me everything. I acquired my winning mentality here; the one which makes you say every game is a battle. I've learnt to be demanding with myself and how to meet difficulties and overcome them. As for myself, I've given them all my time and I've put myself at the service of the team. I hope I'll leave them with something positive.
Before La Vecchia Signora, you played for Lazio. What do you remember about those years in the capital?
So far, I haven't regretted any of my career choices. My five years at Lazio will always be full of very good memories. I discovered a new country, learnt a new language, spent time with very good coaches and won a scudetto, a European Cup Winners' Cup and domestic cups. What more could I have asked for?
Have you never been tempted to play in another foreign country?
That's been a personal choice, after listening to my family. Whether we've been in Rome or Turin, we've always enjoyed it. I have strong attachments here and my children were born here. Why should I leave? But it's true that the English championship attracted me for a while. I've been a fervent supporter of Manchester United ever since I was born.
Do you have any regrets about retiring from the international game?
At 34, and having disputed three European Championships and a World Cup, it was completely normal to let the younger generation take over. As big as my desire was to stay, the youngsters need to play games at the highest level to harden themselves.
How do you see the future unfolding for Czech Republic?
The national team is in a transitional period. The older players are gradually withdrawing and the youngsters, including the finalists in the last Under-20 World Cup, lack experience. That's why Milan Baros, Marek Jankulovski, Zdenek Grygera and Tomas Ujfalusi have an important role to play in helping them integrate. Three or four years from now, we'll be competitive at the very highest level again. Despite that, I think we'll qualify for the next World Cup.
Are you planning to retire at the end of the season?
At my age, I live from day to day and I don't know exactly when I'll stop. Juve have plans for me but nothing's decided yet. One thing's for sure: I'll be starting a whole new life from scratch. I'll have to learn everything and, after making my living as a footballer for 20 years, that's not going to be easy.
Have you considered coaching, with Juventus or the Czech national team, for example?
You don't become a coach overnight, with no experience. Progress happens step by step. One of the best apprenticeships is still to start coaching youngsters and gradually rise through the ranks. If, in the future, I'm asked to coach one of those teams, it will be mean I've been a success. But the road is still long, especially since Juventus are not an easy club to manage. There's constant pressure, a must-win mentality, lots of work in the background and only the great coaches succeed.
Of course, you have crossed paths with some of those greats. Which coaches have had the biggest influence on your career?
Dino Zoff, Sven-Goran Eriksson, Claudio Ranieri, Didier Deschamps - I could almost say all of them. But the one who brought me a little bit more than the rest is without doubt Marcello Lippi, because he positioned me behind the forwards and gave me more freedom on the pitch.
Lastly, do you feel differently playing these days from how you did when you were starting out? And who can you see taking over as your successor?
There's no difference. Whether 20 or 36, I've always felt the same amount of pleasure from playing. Sharing emotions with a squad, enjoying myself and winning trophies are my leitmotiv. It's just harder physically to keep up with the rhythm of a game every three days. As for my successor, it's a tough question. I'd go for my son, provided he plays football (laughs).