Slavia Prague’s invincible season with a side of controversy

SLAVIA Prague made headlines in 2020-21 when their veteran centre back, Ondrej Kúdela, was accused of racist behaviour in a Europa League tie in Glasgow. Unfortunately, this incident overshadowed what turned out to be an outstanding season for the red and whites.

Slavia lifted the Czech First League title for the fourth time in five years, but they also won the Czech Cup to complete their second double in three years and only the sixth overall in their history. In winning the league, they remained unbeaten in their 34 games and they sustained only four defeats in 53 across the entire season. Slavia finished 12 points ahead of second-placed Sparta, their fierce rivals from across town.

In the Czech Cup, Slavia beat Sparta in the semi-finals before winning 1-0 against Viktoria Plzen, thanks to a goal from sought-after striker Abdallah Sima.

Sima could be the next Slavia player to move abroad, possibly to the Premier League. The 19 year-old Senegalese was rumoured to be on West Ham United’s shopping list. The Hammers’ seem to have a penchant for Slavia talent and signed both Tomáš Souček and Vladimír Coufal from the Czech champions. 

Slavia and Sparta have become even more prominent in the Czech League thanks to their ambitious owners and player strategies. In 2015, the China Energy Company became the majority owner of Slavia, but three years later, it emerged that CEFC had financial problems. The CITIC Group, another Chinese firm, took over, transferring the majority stake to SINOBO, whose name now adorns the club’s stadium. 

There was a moment when it looked as though the Chinese would pull out of Prague owing to the government’s refusal to recognise the “one China” policy. This would have gone beyond football and would have included redirecting flights from China to neighbouring countries or Croatia. Prague has been flooded with Chinese tourists over the past few years due to direct flights and a growing relationship between the two countries.

Slavia’s budget is substantially higher than most of their rivals and the club has also become very adept at building a large squad and lending-out to the rest of Czech football the players not currently figuring in the first team. For example, in 2020-21, they had around 20 farmed out to clubs like Slovan Liberec, Jihlava and Bohemians. Their squad includes 12 nationalities but 17 of the current troop are from the Czech Republic.

The club’s European campaign in 2020-21 saw them reach the last eight of the Europa League and included beating Leicester City – something of a shock –  and Rangers. They drew 1-1 at Arsenal, but came unstuck in the second leg, losing 4-0. 

They have another stab at the Champions League ahead of them, but in truth, a club like Slavia is reallya Europa League outfit. The money from a prolonged Champions League run would make their advantage in the first league even more formidable.

They might even have a windfall in the transfer market if young Abdallah Sima is as highly valued as some of the reports suggest. The media have hinted he could be worth € 50 million, but that would seem a little optimistic.

Meanwhile, Slavia have other players who could increase their visibility in the Euro 2020 group stage when the Czech Republic face England, Croatia and Scotland. The most likely export is David Zima, a 20 year-old defender, but the other squad members are at a more advanced stage of their career.

Slavia Prague has a rich history and is one of central Europe’s grand old names. The challenge for many clubs like them is to keep pace with an increasingly polarised European football landscape. It was good to see them reach the Champions League group stage and the Europa League quarter-finals. Can they keep that momentum going?

@GameofthePeople

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