History Czech: the imports who marked the Premier League scoresheet
With Matej Vydra hitting back-to-back goals for Burnley, we look at the other Czech strikers who have brightened up the top flight.
With Mbwana Samatta’s league debut for Aston Villa on February 1 adding Tanzania to the already 110-strong list of FIFA nations to have been represented in the Premier League, it is fair to say that foreign exports have played a key part in shaping the top tier of English football over the last three decades.
A healthy 26-strong cohort has hailed from the Czech Republic, from Queens Park Rangers goalkeeper Jan Stejskal back at the inception of the league in 1992, right through to rebooted Burnley goal-machine Vydra in 2020. In celebration of the former West Brom and Watford striker’s return to form, the time has come to enjoy a few of Bohemia’s memorable Premier League goalscorers.
Milan Baros – Liverpool, Aston Villa, Portsmouth
With 93 caps for the national team and a Golden Boot award from the 2004 European Championships, Baros is the perfect place to start. Second on the all-time Czech international scorers list behind former Borussia Dortmund and Monaco striker Jan Koller, a 20-year-old Baros moved in January 2002 from Banik Ostrava to Merseyside, where he would go on to feature in many of the clubs most crucial encounters, albeit after a slow start. With permit-related issues conspiring to keep him out of action at the start of his Liverpool spell, he would only play 16 minutes of football in his first season.
But two goals on his Premiership debut away at Bolton in September set the tone for a noteworthy second campaign. The youngster, in a squad also featuring compatriots Vladimir Smicer and Patrik Berger, netted 12 times in a campaign that would also see him win a first piece of major silverware, the League Cup.
However, the 2003/04 term began in the worst possible fashion, with a broken ankle sustained against Blackburn in September ruling Baros out for five months and, in all, just two goals would come his way.
But the Czech was not to be deterred. Gerard Houllier’s Anfield departure would revitalise the young striker – that, and a stellar performance on national duty in Greece – in a season that saw him return to his best. A haul of 13 goals saw him top the Reds’ scoring charts alongside Steven Gerrard and Luis Garcia and despite being overlooked for that campaign’s League Cup Final jaunt (a losing endeavour against Chelsea), the 23-year-old was rewarded for his efforts with a start in surely the Merseysiders’ most memorable game since this century, the dramatic 2005 Champions League Final victory over, Milan. Perhaps it was written?
Baros would move to pastures new that summer but a spell at Villa Park and later a loan deal at Portsmouth would bear little fruit, with the striker never succeeding in replicating his Liverpool form. The Czech left Fratton Park without a goal from 12 appearances.
Roman Bednar – West Bromwich Albion
A name that will surely leave West Brom fans regretting what might have been. The towering Roman Bednar left Hearts for the Hawthorns on a season-long loan deal in 2007, going on to make his first senior appearance for the national team the following year. A permanent deal followed a promising first season, the youthful Prague native bagging 17 goals from just 22 starts as Albion returned to the top flight.
The Czech’s powers seemingly waned overnight once the top flight came calling. After his first season in the big time brought him just six goals, two successive loan deals would end in a move to Blackpool. He would manage just one further goal in English football after leaving the Baggies and was last seen back in his homeland with FK Pribram.
Libor Kozak – Aston Villa
Ten points if you remembered this one.
There were just 18 Premier League appearances, with five wins and four goals for the ex-Lazio striker. Villa acquired the services of the 24-year-old Kozak from the Italian club in 2013. A broken leg sustained in training just four months after joining severely hampered his progress in England – he would play no further part in Villa’s 2013/14 campaign, nor feature at all the following term as complications abounded.
A goal in his comeback fixture gave a glimmer of hope, but the return to fitness would not last long. The following season Kozak announced he would rule himself out of contention from February onwards, with surgery needed on his ankle.
Time at Bari and Livorno ended in a return to the Czech Republic, where the 30-year-old is still on the books of Sparta.