Rudi Skacel admits it still rankles that he wasn’t selected for the Czech Republic’s World Cup squad ten years ago after a sensational season at Hearts.
The Raith Rovers attacker, then 25 years old, felt he deserved a call-up after scoring 17 goals and leading the Tynecastle side to their most successful campaign in the modern era as they finished second in the league and won the Scottish Cup. However, he was left heartbroken after being overlooked by coach Karel Bruckner.
“At the end of one of the best seasons of my career at Hearts, I was not picked for the World Cup in Germany,” said Skacel. “It was strange because my agent told me one day he thought I was in the squad and then the day after I wasn’t. It was a sore one. I was disappointed but I knew I wasn’t one of the manager’s favourites. What can I do? I can only try my best.”
This pain was eased slightly by inclusion in the squad for the following tournament. “Euro 2008 was important for me,” said Skacel. “The manager said he didn’t want players from the English Championship so I went from Southampton to Hertha Berlin on loan because I knew playing in the Bundesliga would give me a better chance. After missing the World Cup, I was still dreaming of playing at a tournament with the national team. I knew it was only a small chance but I had a good six months and I got in.”
Skacel didn’t kick a ball at the tournament in Switzerland and Austria, which was a story of much of his international career. He won eight caps – two of them against Scotland – during a seven-year involvement with the Czech national team from 2003 to 2010.
“I am a bit disappointed with how many games I played for the national team,” he said. “I am happy because I had the chance to be in the dressing-room with players like Pavel Nedved, Vladimir Smicer and Karel Poborsky, who played in the Euro 96 final, but I didn’t play much. I was on the bench or in the stand a lot. I was in the team that won the Under-21 European Championship in 2002 and that was amazing. That was really special and the Czech people appreciated it, so I hoped to do something similar with the full team, but it didn’t really happen for me.”