COMPARING the current Hearts team to the class of 2005 is inevitable right now: a rampant start to the season; an unbeaten surge to the top of the league with a group of hungry foreigners and ambitious Scots. It’s all slightly déjà vu. One key component of the Tynecastle side ten years ago isn’t keen to analyse too much. He prefers just to reminisce.
Roman Bednar’s partnership with Edgaras Jankauskas was the attacking focal point of George Burley’s Hearts team as season 2005/06 began. The side would go 12 matches without a league defeat and, despite Burley’s sacking, eventually reach the Champions League qualifying rounds and win the Scottish Cup.
Bednar moved on to sample England’s Premier League as well as Turkish football and is now back in his native Czech Republic. Hearts remains a vivid memory. He signed a three-year contract last month to join the Czech Synot Liga club FK Pribram, formerly known as Dukla Prague until their relocation 40 miles south west of the capital in 1997.
Throughout previous spells at West Bromwich Albion, Leicester City, Ankaragucu, Blackpool, Sivasspor and Sparta Prague, thoughts of how his career initially took off in Edinburgh stayed prominent in his mind.
Hearts provided the start to Bednar’s foreign adventure as a club then on the rise under new owner Vladimir Romanov. He left Mlada Boleslav in July 2005 to join Romanov-financed FBK Kaunas of Lithuania and was immediately loaned to Hearts. He scored the winner against Rangers at Tynecastle and became instantly popular with supporters who sensed something special was happening.
“The players who came to Hearts at that time trusted George Burley and he trusted us,” Bednar told the Evening News. “We knew we could do really well. Many of the players were new to Scotland and we didn’t know what to expect. Our confidence was really high and we did really well that season. I will always think of that year as one of my best.
“We had some difficulties when George Burley was sacked. I always think about our captain, Steven Pressley, who was always a gentleman and a great person. I think I learned a lot from him. At that point, I think Hearts had five or six players in the Scottish national team. That helped the new players from abroad.
“I remember Julien Brellier. He was one of the best sitting midfielders. Paul Hartley and Rudi Skacel both had perfect seasons. I always kept in touch with Robbie Neilson when he was playing in England. It was just a really good team and I always remember those good times.
“Hearts was my first club abroad. Every time I look back, I think it was the best choice for me. I loved playing there, it was the perfect place to start my career abroad. I’m always thinking with my soul and heart and I’m a little bit soft that way, so I think even the name Hearts was perfect for me.”
The right-back from 2005 is now head coach ten years on. Neilson guided Hearts to the Scottish Championship title in record-breaking time last season, his first in management. He now presides over a team with four wins from four league outings and sitting proudly top of the Premiership. “Ah, yes. I understand why people will compare them with our team. I think maybe Robbie has a some lucky charm,” laughed Bednar. “He knows how to get wins with Hearts.”
The striker is now 32 and approaching the twilight of his career. A three-year deal at a less fashionable Czech club is ideal at this stage in his life. From conversation it is clear he is more mature, sensible and settled within himself. That could be debated when you glance at his online profile picture on Whatsapp, which depicts him in a bright blue Superman onesie. Yet cradled in his lap is his baby son, Nicolas, now five months old. Despite the attire, Bednar has definitely grown up.
“Sparta didn’t want me any more [at the end of last season] and I wanted to play football. I was on loan at Pribram for six months last year and they finished fifth. With a bit of luck, they could have got into the Europa League. It was a good season for this small club so I was happy to sign a three-year contract.
“I’ve tried Scotland, England, Turkey and now back to Czech. From a young age, I supported Sparta Prague so it was good for me to come home and play there. I think I’ve had a good career. Now I’ve started a new life because five months ago my son was born. Everything is good in my life right now.”
It wasn’t always thus. Bednar was suspended by West Brom and cautioned by West Midlands police in May 2009 for possession of cocaine and cannabis. He had been pictured by a Sunday newspaper buying drugs outside his home in Sutton Coldfield. The episode forced the player to re-evaluate his life. He quickly realised his mistake and knew he faced a fight to rebuild his career.
“At that time, I had some more trouble than what was in the newspapers. It was pretty tough,” recalled Bednar. “The problems I had, I made myself, so it was only down to me to repair it. I would say it made me much stronger and a better person. I was glad that it happened at that point because it made me who I am now and I think I’m a good person.
“I don’t think too much about bad things that happened a long time ago because I keep looking forward and enjoying the good things. It was a pretty hard time but, as I said, I did it so I had to find strength and get up and make it better.”
He had just finished a season in England’s Premier League after his 17 goals helped West Brom win the Championship the previous year. Bednar knew he was literally living the dream and refused to give up.
“I went from Czech to a better league in Scotland. Then I went to play in the Championship in England, which I think was a little move up. We won the league with West Brom and I played in the Premier League, which was a really high level. It was one of the high points in my career. I got to compete with the best players – Rooney, Ronaldo, Ferdinand, Vidic. It was a dream come true.”
He recovered quickly but one small ambition is unfulfilled as yet. Bednar plans to return to Scotland one day with his new family but admits finding the time is awkward. “I kind of miss Edinburgh and I would like to come back,” he said. “I have a family now and everything is more difficult, but one day I will go back, don’t worry about that. I haven’t seen many Hearts games recently because I don’t have Sky.”
There are still plenty of opportunities to reminisce. Former Hearts team-mates like Skacel and Michal Pospisil are never too far away within the Czech footballing community. “I sometimes saw Michal when I was at Sparta because he would come to some games. I saw Rudi in pre-season when we played a friendly game for older players. We won 7-0, I scored two goals and Rudi passed to me for both of them. Rudi also scored a goal, which came from my pass. It was just like old games at Hearts. I don’t think Rudi wanted to play any more but now he is with Mlada Boleslav (Bednar’s formative club). That is close to Prague so he will start playing again.”
Pribram are due to visit Mlada Boleslav on league business on Saturday, October 3. Bednar versus Skacel is a contest any Hearts fan would want to see. One thing is guaranteed, Tynecastle tales will be the talk of the Czech steamie that day.