Euro Blast from the Past: Karel Poborsky

To this day, nobody has scored a goal quite like the one Karel Poborsky netted against Portugal in the Euro 96 quarter-final.

Outlandish lob, exquisite chip and unprecedented scoop all rolled into one, the deceptively simple strike that sailed over bewildered goalkeeper Victor Baia’s head at Villa Park propelled the Czech Republic winger to instant stardom.

Within weeks of the tournament ending, Premiership champions Manchester United snapped him up from Slavia Prague for £3.5m and laid out a place on the right side of their midfield for him.

But before Poborsky got a chance to make his United debut, there was another famous goal scored by a young United midfielder named David Beckham that would have profound consequences for him.

The Leytonstone-born starlet’s stunning strike from the half-way line against Wimbledon on United’s opening game of the season was the moment that confirmed his superstar credentials. And unfortunately for Poborsky, the pair were competing for the same place in the team.

As one fan on the United Lounge fan forum explained, “Poborsky was the right player at the wrong time. A classy, technical winger, he seemed made for United, and with that lob against Portugal we’d signed a player who had just scored one of the best goals in European Championship history. But when Beckham scored form his own half that summed up Poborsky at United. No matter what he did, David Beckham would just do it better.”

Another thing Poborsky and Beckham had in common was the attention they dedicated to their hair, although they got little support in this regard from their manager. Sir Alex Ferguson has since admitted it was Poborsky’s crusty brown locks that pushed him over the edge, haircut wise.

“I never understood why players would want to have long hair,” Fergie wrote in his autobiography. “I had my first issue with a player on this topic when Karel Poborsky came to Manchester United, looking as though as he was going to play for Led Zeppelin rather than United.

"I did manage to persuade him to trim his locks but even so, they were always too long for my tastes.”

Despite the emergence of Becks and the permanent threat of an enforced trip to the barbers, Poborsky’s United career got off to a promising start when he scored in a 4-0 win at Leeds in his second appearance.

He was a semi-regular feature and generally impressive performer in the team that season, but only made the starting line-up whenever Beckham was drafted into central midfield. Nevertheless, it was enough to earn him a title winner’s medal.

“He was never a bad player for United, but he was surplus to requirements from the moment he arrived. Beckham was the first choice right winger on merit, and Poborsky could never do enough to quite displace him,” said another Red Devils fan.

Other United supporters are slightly less generous, with one describing Poborsky as “massively disappointing” and another saying they “wished we signed Pavel Nedved instead.”

Another summarised, “I remember his glorious hair and insane pace but he never really lived up to the hype. Had his flashes of excellence, but overall rather underwhelming.”

Ferguson ultimately shared this view, letting Poborsky join Benfica midway through his second season in England.

In total he played 47 times for United, scoring six times and undergoing countless hair trims.

“Classic example of a player bought off the back of a big tournament. He had a good Euro 96 but was never as good as he was in those games. Decent player, bad buy,” said a fan on the Republik of Mancunia forum.

Thankfully, the ability Poborsky had shown at Euro 96 was still intact. He became a fan favourite during his impressive three-year stint with Benfica, following it up with a successful spell at Lazio before returning home to Sparta Prague.

In 2015, he was back at Old Trafford for a Legends game against Liverpool, the flowing curls having been ditched and replaced by a voluminous hipster beard. He still looked a bit like a rock star and, reassuringly, he still knew how to pull off an exquisite chip - beating Jerzy Dudek with a cheeky effort. Obviously it wasn’t as good as the one against Portugal. Twenty years on, we’re still waiting for someone to try that again.

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