Günter Bittengel, nicknamed “Bíza”, was another player we were learning from. I’m not surprised he went on to be a coach and later also manager, because he’s always been all about football. He understands football, has a knack for the game, knows how to explain it. You know, Czech people probably didn’t know Günter Bittengel that well, even though he’d played in Dukla ever since he was a child. As you can see from his name, he held dual citizenship and could go and play in Germany whenever he wanted. And he did play in Uerdingen for five years.
So maybe he wasn’t exactly well known, but he was a fabulous footballer. And a great role model. If he said we’d do more sprints, nobody said a word. If he said we could take it easy, we listened. He was thirty-three years old when we met in the Blšany dressing room, but he still had a lot to teach me. Thanks, Bíza!
I’d like to talk about another football personality I met at Blšany. I already mentioned him – Roman Hogen, our top goal-scorer and a really laid-back, generous guy. He’d fight for all of us if necessary, like an invincible Viking. I’d be sitting in some corner, silent, just observing everything, and he’d be fighting on the front lines.
There was another fantastic player at Blšany. Right foot from God, powerful shot, ball technique probably inherited from some Brazilian footballing wizard. You’d just kick the ball towards him, then fold your arms and watch the spectacle. Trust me, I’ve been all over the world and I have seen plenty of footballers, so I know. I’ve never seen such talent in the Czech Republic. His name was Jan Šimák. Unfortunately, he was naughty.
He was acting up even back then when we started playing together, but I had no idea. I finished practice, showered, and got home as quickly as I could. I didn’t care what the others were doing. I knew nothing about slot machines, or parties that went on until dawn. Then one day I heard the guys in the dressing room talking about Honza Šimák, saying he was living with the coach. “Why?” I asked ingenuously.
“Because he drinks and gambles!”
Now I know all the stories. How Patrik Gedeon used to pick him up at the bar in the morning, to take him to practice. Honza would be sitting over a half-finished glass of Johnnie Walker whisky, and he wouldn’t even blush: he’d just finish the drink in one gulp, pay, and then go to practice. Coach Beránek tried to save him, time and again. But it was impossible.
When he was feeling well, nobody could catch Honza Šimák on the pitch. He was like Ronaldinho. Even Pavel Nedvěd used to say: “Šimák is so talented he would put any Nedvěd or Rosický to shame.”
It was as if he was born with the ball already at his feet. Fast and unpredictable, nobody knew what he was up to. Once, the coaches showed him a video of a dribble that the left-footed Ryan Giggs from Manchester United was famous for. A long, sideways dribble, do you remember? And Honza tried it out straight away: at the next practice, he would do it like Giggs did. Left foot, a little flick, ball under his feet, he could do it immediately. He was playful like that, loved to try new things.
But sometimes he’d be having a bad day. He wouldn’t feel like playing. And instead of an extremely skilful footballer you’d suddenly be watching an average Joe. Whenever he lost a ball three, four times in a row, or messed up a dribble, he’d get annoyed. He hated his own mistakes, because he was so talented he wasn’t used to making any. And when he did make a mistake, he’d become despondent and lose focus. Coach Beránek tried to keep him under control, but he couldn’t always be there for him.
In 2000, Honza transferred to Hannover where he shone like a pearl fished from the bottom of the deepest sea. He was a prolific striker, not only scoring goals but also assisting others, and later on Leverkusen paid a fortune for him. It could have been the transfer of the year, if it weren’t for…
Nobody will remember Honza Šimák now, because he wasn’t able to sacrifice and give everything to football, but trust me, if he had, he could have been the Czech Messi.
P.S. The following chapter coming up next week!
Dude, you need to speak up! …
This work is for the newbies. You must do it, even if you don’t like it. …