By Robert Muller and Michael Kahn
PRAGUE (Reuters) – Slavia coach Jindrich Trpisovsky’s coaching career has propelled him from the rough-and-tumble lower echelons of Czech football to Barcelona’s hallowed Camp Nou – an unlikely journey that the baseball-cap wearing coach describes as a dream.
Trpisovsky roamed the sidelines of the Czech third tier only six years ago but is now operating at the highest level in Europe club football while earning an impressive reputation with his attacking philosophy.
Indeed, his approach at Slavia has earned comparisons at home with that of Liverpool’s Champions League-winning coach Juergen Klopp, as local media now hail him “the Czech Klopp”.
The 43-year-old has come far since those days early in his coaching career when he would work as a waiter during the day before training a team in the afternoon.
“I first started to coach at 22 by coincidence when the youth club at a team I was playing at needed a coach for a match,” Trpisovsky told Reuters as he prepared for Slavia’s final Champions League group match of the season at Dortmund on Tuesday.
“From that moment, I’ve been coaching to this day.
“Six years ago, I was in the third league so this is all a dream.
“Playing at Camp Nou (in Slavia’s Champions League group match against Barcelona) was complete science fiction for me because my biggest goal used to be to get to the first league.”
Trpisovsky, speaking after a first team training station, got his big break in 2013 when taking the helm at second division Viktoria Zizkov.
Top-flight league sides soon came calling and in 2015 he moved to Slovan Liberec, leading the mid-sized club into Europe and stunning Olympique Marseille in the Europa League group stages.
When Slavia, one of the country’s biggest clubs, started their title defence slowly in 2017-18, their Chinese owners turned to Trpisovsky, who led them to second in the league and victory in the Czech cup.
Last season, he guided Slavia to their first league and domestic cup double since 1942.
They also knocked out Sevilla in the last 16 of the Europa League as well as putting up a courageous fight in their 4-3 defeat in the quarter-final second leg at Chelsea, whose then manager Maurizio Sarri hailed his opponents as having physical qualities he had not seen in 20 years.
That gave Slavia fans hope this season when drawing Barcelona, Inter Milan and Borussia Dortmund in a fiendishly tough Champions League group from which they, perhaps inevitably, failed to progress.
Their performances were still to be applauded, though, as they earned a goalless draw at Barcelona and another point at Inter Milan after conceding a stoppage time goal. At home, they lost 2-1 to Barcelona and 2-0 to Dortmund amid sterling efforts.
While bottom of their group with two points, the team have stayed true to Trpisovsky’s commitment to pressing play and working tirelessly every minute.
“The style we play is challenging,” Trpisovsky said. “We try to play total football from the first to the 90th minute, meaning there should be always something happening on the pitch. When we lose the ball, we immediately try to win it back.”
Trpisovsky, who wears a baseball cap during matches like his coaching idol Klopp, brushes off comparisons but says he tries to emulate the way the German succeeded at Dortmund with lesser-known players.
The club’s European emergence has also boosted the Czech national side, with a core of their players in the squad that beat England 2-1 on the way to qualification for Euro 2020.
Trpisovsky also hopes Slavia’s success will draw more foreign players to the Czech league — often known more for battles and physical matches than beautiful play — by showing their best teams can compete on bigger stages.
“It is more realistic today that a foreign player would come. They used to ask, ‘what is the Czech league, what is Slavia?’,” he noted. “Today, they know what style we play.”
(Writing by Michael Kahn, Editing by Ian Chadband)