They say, you should never be the one to follow a legend. Your better off following the one who follows the legend. There have been numerous examples over the years of players and managers alike, struggling to cope with the pressure of their predecessors’ shadow hanging over their heads, with a more recent high profile example being David Moyes’ unfortunate season at Manchester United following the departure of an institution and a titan in Sir Alex Ferguson.
Hence, when a certain golden locked Czech named Pavel Nedved made the journey north from Rome to the allure of a beautiful Old Lady by the name of Juventus in Turin in the summer of 2001, the script was written for a glorious failure. Unfortunately for the writers, Nedved was not given a copy of this script and even if he was, it was probably thrown in the trash the very next minute.
Having arrived at the Stadio Delle Alpi following the sale of Zidane to Real Madrid for a then world record fee, it would have been so easy for Nedved to succumb to the pressures of stepping into the shoes of an all time great like many before and after him. However over the next 8 years, Nedved ended up carving out a hall of fame career with Juventus and in the process became a club icon in his own right. Proving that the initial trepidations following his arrival were unfounded.
While he was never going to out with Zidane in a battle of skill and ability (no one can), what he did possess and bring to the table made him standout from the rest. Where Zidane had been the absolute master of his craft, Nedved was an elite and ambidextrous jack of multiple trades. Blessed with a rocket of a right foot and a bullet of a left foot, he had an extraordinary ability play in any position across the midfield and attack with the same levels of ability and determination. He was equally adept at playing on either wing as he was at playing a more central role. Such was his level of flexibility that he could play in any number of positions within the same game based on the situation and fulfill multiple roles playing in the same positions. (He was a LW, RW, CM, CAM, Box to Box MF and was everywhere on the pitch). He could dribble, he was good in the air, he was a set piece specialist, he was a leader, he could do it all and he could just run and run and run….
Perhaps more than any other facet of his game, the one area where he certainly stood head and shoulder above everyone else was in possessing an almost inhumanly endless reserve of energy. Known to be a fitness obsessed gym rat, if ever a team was asked to play a 90 minute game immediately followed by another, the man known as the “Czech Fury” would without a doubt have been the only player left standing at the end of the 180 grueling minutes and even then would probably sprint back to the dressing room.
Never more so were all his talents on full display than that memorable night in Turin in May 2003. While the Stadio Delle Alpi was never known to be a great theater, on this one night it was transformed into a fervent cauldron of a never before experienced level of decibels. It was on this stage with the eyes of the world watching that Nedved took charge and along with his teammates went about systematically dissecting and dismantling a star studded Real Madrid side that boasted as part of their squad the likes of Figo, Raul, Guti, Roberto Carlos and of course Zidane himself, to progress to the final of the Champions League. While he would miss out the final due to suspension, such was his impact that entire season that by the end of the year he was awarded the prestigious Balon D’or.
While individual accolades are always subjective and up for interpretations, what is unquestionably set in stone is Nedved’s legacy with the Old Lady. Whether it was staying loyal to the club post Calciopoli or continuing to work with the club as a board of director post his retirement and guiding her to new heights, Nedved has played an integral part in writing the story of Juventus.
Thus today, years later if the question is once again posed as to whether Nedved was successful in filling Zidane’s shoes, it would be invalidated because Nedved changed the question. While Zidane was the Jewel in the Crown, Nedved was Warrior Knight that made sure the Crown continued to grow its legacy even after the jewel was removed.
He didn’t fill Zidane’s shoes because he didn’t need to as he brought his own pair and was the best Nedved he could have ever been.