Patrik Schick: the Czech Euros star who was told he would never make it

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<span>Photograph: Paul Ellis/EPA</span>
Photograph: Paul Ellis/EPA

When Patrik Schick’s 50-yard shot flew into David Marshall’s net, it wasn’t the first iconic Czech goal at a European Championship. In 1976 Antonin Panenka scored his famous penalty, which won Czechoslovakia their only major trophy, and 20 years later Karel Poborsky’s chip over Portugal’s Vítor Baía in the quarter-final helped the Czechs towards a silver medal.

Schick has three goals from games against Scotland and Croatia at this tournament and could emulate his compatriot Milan Baros, the golden boot winner at Euro 2004. His killer instinct has made the country dream again as they prepare to face England on Tuesday.

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“I believe we will get further at this tournament and Patrik will lead us with his goals,” the Czech Republic head coach, Jaroslav Silhavy, said. “I hope this wasn’t his last word. If he can do the same thing as Baros, that would be great.” Schick’s penalty against Croatia was converted with blood flowing from his nose after a bang from Dejan Lovren’s elbow.

Schick’s gifts as a goalscorer were evident from a young age. “I would always stand out because I scored a lot,” he told Reporter magazine. Playing for Vestec, a village near Prague, Schick wouldn’t get too excited after a goal. He would take the ball out of the net, bring it to the centre circle and say: “Fine, let’s play again.” When he missed a big chance, he would cry and had to be substituted.

An inspiration has been Wayne Rooney, whom an eight-year-old Schick watched play for Manchester United at Sparta Prague. Rooney was days from his 19th birthday. “He was running on the pitch in front of me,” Schick said. “I thought that I want to do this – never get a normal job, and earn a living like him.”

David Holoubek, Schick’s coach in Sparta’s academy, said there was never a doubt the striker had the talent to make it. When I saw his technique and speed, it was clear that he is destined to play somewhere abroad,” he said. What some doubted was whether he had the work rate.

After Schick scored twice for Sparta’s Under-18s against Jablonec he was summoned to talk to Jaroslav Hrebik, the sporting director, and the coach Martin Hasek. “I was certain they would praise me,” Schick recalled. “However they had a video from the game and showed me some highlights. They said I didn’t fight, I didn’t help the defence and didn’t work for the team. They said I should hang up my boots because I wasn’t on the path to make it as a pro. And they didn’t understand why people said I was such as talent.”

Patrik Schick heads past David Marshall for the Czech Republic&#x002019;s first goal against Scotland.
Patrik Schick heads past David Marshall for the Czech Republic’s first goal against Scotland. Photograph: Marc Atkins/Getty Images

Schick was loaned to Bohemians, a club known for work ethic and fighting spirit. “There he had to work, work and work,” Holoubek said. After a season in a relegation battle, Schick returned to Sparta and was expected to play. But the iconic David Lafata was preferred and when Sparta offered Schick a new contract, his agent deemed it insufficiently lucrative and threw it in the bin. Three Bundesliga clubs and Sampdoria were interested, and Schick moved to the Italian club for about €4m in July 2016.

“What’s your name?” was the first question Sampdoria’s coach Marco Giampaolo asked him at training. Schick struggled for playing time with Fabio Quagliarella and Luis Muriel in his position, and sometimes wondered whether he had made a mistake leaving Sparta.

Then, in late October, Schick scored against Juventus in a 4-1 defeat. “Two days later, I made some bad passes and [Giampaolo] began shouting at me hysterically, that if I think I can take it easy now after a goal against Juventus …” Schick soon embarked on a run that brought him another 12 goals that season. Having been able to walk freely into the city centre with his girlfriend, suddenly he was mobbed by fans.

Juventus, Milan and Roma came calling. A transfer to Juventus fell through after a failed medical (heart inflammation after a previous illness) but Roma paid a reported club-record fee of €40m. Driving in the city, other drivers would honk. At traffic lights bikers would tap on the window and ask for selfies.

Patrik Schick

Again it was hard to break through. Schick had injuries and struggled to push Edin Dzeko out as the No 9. He ended up on the wing in a 4-3-3 and, described as a flop, was loaned to Leipzig. Schick got 10 goals in 28 goals but Leipzig opted not to buy him and last September Schick moved to Bayer Leverkusen for about €26.5m.

“He is an exceptional player, in some things better than Ronaldo,” Hrebik says. “However clubs like Manchester City require a player to be complete. They consider his strengths and weaknesses and how that affects their gameplan. Clubs would need to pay a big price for him, so it would be better if he worked more on his play without the ball. Then we would have a world-class player.”

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