“There’s no better option anyway”: A case for David Horejš as a Jaroslav Šilhavý replacement

rsource: budejcka.drbna.cz

Right. Time to be constructive. Time to shift the debate a little bit — focus less on Jaroslav Šilhavý, who might or might not be a dead man walking, and more on who could feasibly replace him. That’s because even some eager critics of Šilhavý appear to always add a little asterisk to their own critique: who else? I’m going to tell you in no uncertain terms.

Indeed, this article isn’t going to dwell on Jaroslav Šilhavý any longer. I’ll do some more dwelling later today on Kontrapresink podcast (CZ), but otherwise I feel like I’ve driven all my points home in just about any form and then some. At this point, it’s more important to preface all this with an honest hat tip:

We owe Šilhavý a great deal of gratitude — for the memorable England upset, for the Netherlands triumph, for stabilizing things after a chaotic Karel Jarolím regime, for being the gentleman that he is— and they are no small feats either. But I honestly believe he’s taken this team as far as he could.

After all, we’ve been here before with Šilhavý. Slavia recognized it soon enough and now here they are, a juggernaut of European proportions driven by a progressive mind who’s proven to be able to build on Šilhavý’s solid blocks. It’s OK to just be that for Šilhavý — a sort of a foundational coach. It’s OK to not be a visionary and still get appreciated. Czech FA boss Petr Fousek needs to acknowledge that too: it’s OK to feel “proud” of the coaching staff, as Fousek did in the aftermath of the Sweden defeat, and still make a move.

So with that in mind, let me introduce you to my perfect(ish) candidate.

#1 Outside-of-the-box hire without overdoing it

First of all, however, we all need to step outside the box. We all need to stop thinking about the national team coaching post as some sort of a honorary role. In our country, this particular gig gets routinely treated as something you must “deserve”, preferably by winning a title or two, which is not necessarily in line with how the rest of the world views it. Germany last appointed a man with a significantly bulked-up coaching record in 1998, coincidentally (or not) in the year they pretty much started their own journey to the rock bottom. Völler, Klinsmann, Löw and Flick all followed, and they all fall outside the so-called “experienced” let alone “veteran” coaching category.

Onto some more relatable cases (and hidden David Horejš parallels, see):

Poland have played some of their very best football under the guidance of Adam Nawałka (2013–18) — a man who had carefully crafted a feel-good, family-esque above-average club out of a recently second-tier Górnik Zabrze in the three years prior to his sudden ascension and then took a legion representing seven different Ekstraklasa clubs to a successful 2016 Euro!

I’d love to see a Czech NT manager doing that once.

Denmark, who defeated us in the 2020 Euro quarter-final, are still going strong under Kasper Hjulmand who had done all his fine work with a second-string local club. Yes, he did win a title with them, but that was nearly a decade prior, with a disastrous Bundesliga experience somewhat tarnishing his reputation soon after. In his last Superliga season with Nordsjælland, Hjulmand only just barely squeezed them into the Championship group (thanks to more goals scored), much like in 2015/16 upon his return home. And you know what? Denmark FA didn’t care. They saw a bright coaching mind, and that was good enough for them. Why can’t our bosses ever think like that?

It’s not like David Horejš isn’t used to winning either. In no insignificant way, he has won a title, too — moulding Dynamo České Budějovice into the second most dominant 2nd-tier champions of this century (and only just; 72 points only lag behind 1. FC Synot’s 76-point promotion campaign of 1999/2000). As F:Liga newcomers, Dynamo won more games than 6th Baník Ostrava. They comfortably avoided relegation in the dreaded sophomore season. Now, with a favourable schedule the rest of the way, they are very well in with a shout to square off with the Top 5 clubs as part of the Championship group.

On the whole, Horejš has a perfectly suitable CV for a NT coach and is no spring chicken himself. He’s only the 4th youngest coach in the Czech top flight at 44 and has been a head coach for over 6 years, having spent about 3 more years in charge of youth teams at Dynamo. He’s got over 200 top flight starts under his belt, so he ticks that obligatory “seasoned pro” box, too (like literally every post-Brückner NT coach did, with the sole exception of Pavel Vrba), is a likeable character and has played for as well as assisted František Cipro, one of the very best managers never to coach the national team. And if you’re missing some international pedigree, then Tomáš Sivok could come in too and simultaneously replace Libor Sionko as a team manager. Win-win.

When you think about it, this really isn’t too much of a “hipster” choice after all.

#2 Fresh perspective paired with affordability

Our national team has long been saddled by the sense of nepotism and too big an influence of player agents on squad lists which likely isn’t going anywhere completely, but it could be tamed by someone who’s got some natural separation. Michal Bílek, Vrba and Šilhavý neatly cover all of the Big 3 clubs, whereas Horejš would come in with no such embedded bias; a blank sheet.

This is why I would, alternatively, like us to follow the recent Hungarian blueprint with Bernd Storck coming in from the outside as the proverbial spark of a fading footballing nation (and Marco Rossi doing the same on the club scene with Honvéd/DAC and then following up with the national team, too — perfection), but let’s say we can’t afford to go down this route — not finance-wise, and arguably not time-wise either, with some especially tough Nations League fixtures coming at us thick and fast. Right now, we do need someone who speaks the language and knows the players, which could easily be David Horejš — with the added bonus of having groomed current star Lukáš Provod.

In fact, the timeline aligns with Horejš perfectly in every sense. Given the wild shake-up at every level of the club and going by the subsequent rumours (or, dare I say, open secret even), he too is a dead man walking in the eyes of the erratic Dynamo owner — pretty much the last piece of his puzzle, really. Only a month ago, Horejš admitted he’s yet to receive a contract extension offer and he likely isn’t getting one regardless of results, making him a fabulous fit.

Added bonus for the like-minded out there: David Horejš is known for his willingness to learn from and listen to data analysts, taking advantage of 11Hacks’ unique expertise, and it would be a truly exciting prospect to see that aspect getting incorporated in some capacity at national team level, too.

#3 Superior player management/development

One extremely enticing thing on Jindřich Trpišovský potentially becoming a national team coach (which is otherwise a bad idea imo) is his ability to find a fitting role for just about anyone at just about anytime. Sure, sometimes it takes time, but sometimes it also doesn’t — a skill that’s served Trpišovský greatly in numerous hectic, injury-filled situations like the pre-Sweden one.

David Horejš is a bit of a poor man’s Trpišovský in this sense.

While Šilhavý would routinely trot out a bunch of guys who run a lot and “give everything” to mask their technical and other deficiencies (resulting in a series of faceless, bland performances on the ball), Horejš doesn’t mind a good old role player — one who may struggle in some key areas, but excels in other no-less-key areas to provide his team with an edge. Šilhavý has notably failed to utilize Lukáš Kalvach or Pavel Bucha — two thirds of the best central midfield in the country for much of 2020, mind— infamously shoving Kalvach into the Tomáš Souček role for that dreadful Northern Ireland friendly (a wild misfit, for painfully obvious reasons) and then giving up on him forever. Instead, the combative likes of Michal Sadílek were preferred, because it was just… yeah, easier.

Enter David Horejš who’s finally found a place for the soft Patrik Hellebrand and made a second coming of Andrea Pirlo out of Jakub freaking Hora. No, honestly, tune in for any Dynamo game, just follow Hora doing his thing, sit back and enjoy the match through the lens of a Top 5 deep-lying playmaker — you won’t miss anything Dynamo create, I can pretty much guarantee that.

Yet, Hora is not one for duels either despite his nominal position — a mind-blowing concept for some, but a perfectly reasonable one if you account for it with other roster selections. Like giving him Matěj Valenta, one of the fastest growing prospects in the Czech game currently who loves battling and creates.

Examples don’t nearly stop here. Particularly if you also believe our players are simply not (technically) good enough to cope on the highest level, look no further than Ondřej Mihálik. He is a vastly limited player with an atrocious first touch who’s nonetheless playing some of his most effective football under Horejš simply through being deployed down the middle and flanked by gifted players who can play off him or utilize his disruptive runs. Moving Patrik Brandner from wing to centre in 2020/21 was a masterstroke of efficiency, too, as was making €1,5m off Fortune Bassey’s 4 months, of course.

When in charge of a national team, this skill is exactly what can — and does — make a difference. You generally don’t have space to build a fool-proof tactical construct — and Horejš has decidedly not done that with Dynamo either — meaning player instructions become ever so crucial. Horejš seem to excel at communicating them, whereas I’m not nearly convinced Šilhavý ever did.

#4 Team with a face and guts — regardless of opposition

My big long-standing problem with our national team that’s not specific to Šilhavý is how we always seem to suffer from an in-built inferiority complex. All of Bílek, Vrba and Šilhavý have at various (and most) points focused more on neutralizing the opponent’s strenghts than exploiting its weaknesses.

I believe it’s this inherent fear that has held us back in recent years. Not always and to varying degrees, but frustratingly often — to a point it’s become our identity. David Horejš knows the role of the inferior all too well, but he makes it his mantra to take on the challenge head-on — for better or worse.

Now, he might change in charge of the national team (Vrba definitely did, for instance), but it could certainly help to have this mindset to begin with.

You may recall Dynamo played out two wild draws with a combined 5:5 score with Sparta as top flight newcomers. You probably recall that what followed in the next season was a fantastic 4:2 upset of the same opponent at Letná. You shall definitely recall their daring, clinical comeback victory in man disadvantage against Slovácko, too, or perhaps an older 2:0 away triumph over the same opponent (who had just beaten Sparta). An unbeaten 2020/21 record against Baník Ostrava also isn’t anything to scoff at. You get my drift.

In November 2019, as he was prepping for one of his five Sparta upsets to date, Horejš told the reports he’s not willing to abandon his team’s playing style just because they are facing a superior team. He specifically cited the need for approaching it “confidently”. I never got the same sense with Šilhavý.

#5 A much-needed stylistical change

While Dynamo are an elite counter-attacking outfit, they are not one for random, hasty passing as well as running — something that’s become a daily bread for the national team under Šilhavý’s guidance. Horejš maybe wouldn’t have his players press as frantically as Šilhavý did in that inspired first half in Solna, but he also wouldn’t watch them spitting out their lungs in the second half — our eventual downfall. Where 17,2% of Czech passes were “long” on Thursday, creating a palpable sense of us always chasing after the ball and never really knowing what to do with it, Dynamo’s season average stands at 14,5% (third lowest % in the league) with them actually generating 61,8% of all their xG from positional attacks — the second highest portion behind only Slovácko. Slavia are third, and playing second lowest % of passes on long distance (12,6%). Those are fantastic stylistical comparables to draw upon.

We need this. Adam Hložek needs balls played to his feet, not hoofed towards the by-line. By the end of the next cycle, the likes of Adam Karabec and Kryštof Daněk will be turning 21 and we should be slowly getting ready to integrate them while maximizing the use of their skillsets, too, so we don’t eventually squander their potential like our U-21 coaches have so far done.

If we frequently moan about not producing the right players and by “right” we mean technically gifted with game-breaking potential, then that excuse is going to hit its expiry date very soon. Czech FA’s regional academies started nurturing U-14/15 players in 2015 and so their first alumni are aging out of their teens as we speak; David Horejš must see it first hand as the České Budějovice academy is basically made of just Dynamo kids gaining a competitive edge.

The league is already feeling the shift, too: I can’t remember this many players in their teens pulling strings for various top flight clubs — be it David Tkáč (2002) as a legitimate centrepiece, or Vojtěch Novák (2002), Michal Černák (2003), Lukáš Mašek and Daniel Samek (2004) in patches, along with the aforementioned slightly more established peers. It’s been refreshing to see.

And sure, the clubs will continue to carry the greatest share of responsibility in developing these players. But the national team is also here to showcase and to provide experience, not just building a squad of the already showcased. It can’t just be Slavia doing the heavy-lifting all fucking along (or Plzeň before 2016, for that matter). If you want an experienced yet talented squad with a genuine shot at a World Cup, there’s really nothing easier than to stop recycling Kopic’s, Doležal’s and Tecl’s of the world to keep re-assuring ourselves they are indeed not cut out for this level, and start investing in those who may not come any better, but are still in the process of coming (through).

Creating an NT environment ready to let technical ability to flourish would be a start. And so, should the Czech FA decide to fire Šilhavý, we cannot afford to open yet another era with a safety-first manager who’s more concerned with not getting defeated than actually trying to always win in a pro-active manner.

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One independent Czech writer’s views on Czech football. Simple as that really. Also to be found on Twitter @czechfooty.

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Tomas Danicek

Tomas Danicek

One independent Czech writer’s views on Czech football. Simple as that really. Also to be found on Twitter @czechfooty.

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