Welcome to another edition of the Flashback Friday feature on Football Meets Football. This week we’re back to a footballer, and we will be looking at Czech legend Karel Poborský. If you have any suggestions for players you would like to have featured in this article leave a comment on here, on our Facebook page or on our Twitter (@FBmeetsFB).
Karel Poborský was born on 30th March 1972 in Třeboň, Czechoslovakia and spent the majority of his playing career as a right winger. As a youth he played for TJ Třeboň, Jiskra Třeboň and České Budějovice (please don’t ask me to pronounce any of them). It was with Budějovice that he broke into the first team squad in 1991 at the age of 19. He would spend 3 years at Budějovice, scoring 15 goals in 82 apperances as they secured back to back 13th place finishes in the Czechoslovak First Division in his first 2 years followed by a 6th place finish in the Czech First Division after the dissolution of Czechoslovakia. Prior to the 1994/95 season he would secure a move to Viktoria Žižkov where he would spend one full season, scoring 10 goals in 27 apperances as the team finished 5th in the league and runners up in the Czech cup. After just 1 appearance for Žižkov in the 1995/96 season he was signed by Slavia Prague where he would make 39 appearances and score 13 goals as Slavia were crowned Czech First Division champions and made their way to the UEFA Cup semi-finals.
While playing in Czechoslovakia and then the Czech Republic he would earn his first international call up for a friendly against Turkey on 23rd February 1994, which would also be the first game for the Czech Republic after the dissolution of Czechoslovakia. The Czechs would qualify for Euro 96, topping their group ahead of Holland by 1 point and Poborský would feature in 5 qualifying games, primarily as a substitute. At the tournament itself Karel would start every game for the Czech Republic, which opened with a 2-0 defeat to Germany before a 2-1 win over Italy and a 3-3 draw with Russia ensured a 2nd place group finish and qualification to the quarter finals – they finished level on points with Italy and had a worse goal difference but went through thanks to their head-to-head record. It was in the quarter final that Karel Poborský introduced himself to the world, scoring that goal in a 1-0 win against Portugal – the first goal he ever scored for his country. The semi-final saw a 0-0 draw between the Czechs and France which went to penalties, and the Czechs would come out on top 6-5 with Karel scoring his country’s 4th penalty. It ended where it all began for the Czech Republic as they faced Germany in the final, and like the first encounter it would be the Germans that came out on top. This time the game would finish 1-1 after 90 minutes, but a 95th minute golden goal from Oliver Bierhoff secured the championship for Germany – though it would be Karel Poborský that earned the Man of the Match honours. Poborský would also be crowned Czech Footballer of the Year in 1996, a title he shared with national teammate Patrik Berger.
After his stellar performance during Euro 96 Manchester United came calling and secured Poborský’s services ahead of the 1996/97 season with a £3.6 million transfer. He would make his debut in the 1996 Charity Shield, coming on as a 41st minute sub as United beat Newcastle 4-0. He would score his first goal in the 76th minute of the 5th game of the season in a 4-0 win away at Leeds and would go on to make 32 appearances in his first season in Manchester, scoring 4 goals, as United secured the Premier League title. However it was during this season that a certain David Beckham started to make a name for himself and chances in his second season were limited, meaning he only made 15 appearances and scored 2 goals in a trophy-less season.
After being deemed surplus to requirements Poborský was sold to Benfica of Portugal before the 1998/99 season for £2.5 million. It was here that he had the best years of his career, forming a formidable partnership with João Pinto. He made 19 appearances in his first year with the club, scoring 5 goals (including this beautiful solo effort against Braga) as Benfica finished 3rd in the Portuguese Primeira Divisão. The 1999/00 season would see another Benfica 3rd place finish as Karel racked up 29 appearances and another 5 goals.
After failing to qualify for the 1998 World Cup the Czech Republic were back in the international tournament picture for Euro 2000, however defeats to Holland and France meant they would not make it past the group stage despite a 2-0 win over Denmark. Poborský’s only goal of the tournament came from the penalty spot in the 2-1 defeat to France.
He would only spend a further half season in Portugal with Benfica, scoring 1 goal in 13 appearances before a £2 million transfer to Lazio in January 2001. He would round out the 2000/01 season with 19 appearances and 1 goal as Lazio finished 3rd in Serie A. In Karel’s only full season in Italy in 2001/02 he would score 4 goals in 27 appearances in a 6th place finish, although he would have a say in the title race as 2 first half goals on the final day of the season in a 4-2 win over Inter Milan meant Juventus were crowned champions.
The 2002/03 season would see Poborský return to the Czech Republic with Sparta Prague on a free transfer. He would play with Sparta for 3 and a half seasons, winning the league in 2002/03 and a league and cup double in 2003/04. He would make 87 appearances for Sparta in all, scoring 26 goals, before securing a mid-season move to childhood club České Budějovice in 2005/06, who were in the Czech second division at the time. 8 goals in 14 games from Poborský helped Budějovice secure promotion back to the first divison at the end of the 2005/06 season. The 2006/07 season would be his last as a professional and he bowed out with 2 goals in 12 games as Budějovice finished 10th. Over 16 years as a professional Poborský finished with 388 total appearances, tallying 93 goals in the process.
The Czech Republic again failed to qualify for the World Cup in 2002. They made it to Euro 2004, where Poborský would start 4 of the 5 games but he would go scoreless as the Czechs made it to the semi-finals where they were knocked out by eventual winners Greece. The Czech Republic would make the World Cup for the first time in 2006 and Poborský was included in the Czech squad, starting every game, but they would not make it past the group stage. Karel announced his international retirement after the tournament. His international career totals were 118 appearances (2nd most ever for the Czech Republic behind Petr Cech) with 8 goals.
Since retiring from the game Karel worked as a technical leader for the Czech Republic national team. His number 8 was retired by České Budějovice. He also made an appearance for a Manchester United legends team in 2015 along with players like Dennis Irwin, Ronnie Johnsen, Bryan Robson and Dwight Yorke. Poborský got on the scoresheet as they beat a team of Liverpool legends 4-2.