Tomas Rosicky’s laugh echoes down the phone line.
The former Arsenal and Czech Republic midfielder, who wowed Europe with his control of the ball, has just been asked about what it was like playing with the “big man, little man” strike combination of Jan Koller and Milan Baros.
It was put to him that it might be the best ever, even when you consider England’s love-in with the partnership over the years that produced combinations like Heskey and Owen, and Crouch and Defoe or Rooney...
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“It was a great combination for them and the whole team,” recalls Rosicky of playing with Baros and the giant figure of Koller, the latter of whom he also played with for Borussia Dortmund and the Czech youth teams.

Milan Baros and Jan Koller celebrate after the first goal during the Czech Republic's 3-0 win over Denmark in the quarterfinals of the 2004 European Championships

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"In our team it was all about the chemistry and how the coach built the squad, everyone knew what to do in every position.
“The mixture of the quick guy who is running channels around the big guys for me was great because with Koller you could play one-two and he was holding the ball very well.
“Baros was the one around him making the run, he had a great timing of the run he knew when to go. It was a great partnership.”

Karel POBORSKY, Tomas ROSICKY and Pavel NEDVED

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Rosicky is of course speaking about the Czech Republic team that went to Euro 2004 he was a part of. It was a team that won seven of their eight qualifying matches and the year before the finals went to the Stade de France for what would be a memorable friendly.
“I remember going there we were all laughing when we saw the names on their team-sheet,” says Rosicky.
And we were making jokes we would lose 5-0!
They did not lose 5-0.
They faced up against the likes of Desailly, Thuram, Petit, Zidane, Makelele and Henry, and they came away with 2-0 win.
That result, combined with finishing above the Netherlands in their qualification sector and having a Ballon d’Or winner within the squad in Pavel Nedved, saw the Czech side tipped as dark horses for Euro 2004, and they did not disappoint.
They came from behind three times to a top a group that reunited them with the Netherlands and featured the runners up from the previous Word Cup, Germany.

Tomas ROSICKY / CZE 01.07.04

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Did they know they could do that?
“We were confident because in the qualification we beat Holland and in a friendly game we won in France so we knew we had a good team and great players.
“The majority of the starting XI played in big teams all over Europe, I would like to say we knew we are strong and I don’t want to say the aim was to win it but throughout the tournament for sure we found out we could win it when the tournament started.”
The team eventually came unstuck against the surprise eventual champions Greece but not before they won the hearts of the watching public, and Rosicky says the team could feel it.
“I think we felt it. The games we had played were entertaining, just look at the Holland match.
For the neutral fan it was, I don’t want to say a joy to watch, but people liked to watch us because it was entertaining.
A complete contrast to Greece, who Rosicky says “all credit to them because the game we played against them in the semis it was very tough to play against them, what they did they were very good at it.”
The Czech team was led by Nedved on the pitch and Karel Bruckner on the touchline. Rosicky believes a key part of Bruckner’s management was his belief in his players and his commitment to attacking.

Euro 2004 in Portugal, Sintra; Training; Tomas ROSICKY, Trainer Karel BRUECKNER

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“I think the coach knew he had intelligent players in the squad. He knew he could manage it with the formations. For example I remember the game against Holland when we were 2-0 down he was substituting a right-back for another striker after 30 minutes.
“Me personally in the second half I was playing the quarter-back role, the number six. So he wasn’t afraid to risk and the majority of the time he wanted to attack. I think most of the time he knew he could take risks because he had intelligent players.
“He wasn’t afraid to put a classic right-winger like Poborsky as a right-back and me as a No 10 to a No 6. He was tweaking the more position than the formation but of course the formation was part of it as well.”
As for Nedved? "He was a great leader.
His strongest point was that he was an unbelievable machine, he was up and down, he was never tired.
“He wanted to win all the time so it was a great influence to everyone in the team. We had younger guys like me or Baros and he was great influencing that aspect for us. His drive, the will to win he was showing it in every game.”

Vratislav LOKVENC, Tomas ROSICKY, Pavel NEDVED / CZE 23.06.04

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There is a real excitement about this current crop of young Czech players. Although the majority of them are still not quite ready for international football yet, fans can slowly see the next group coming through.
One youngster who has made Jaroslav Silhavy’s 26-man squad for the finals this summer is 18-year-old Adam Hlozek, a product of Sparta Prague, the club where Rosicky started his career and now works as the sporting director.
Even though it is a phone interview the pride in Rosicky’s voice speaks volumes when the discussion turns to Hlozek, who just finished as the joint-top scorer in the Czech league.
“I have to say the boy is very driven and he is very calm.

Sparta Praha's Czech forward Adam Hlozek (l) and Lille's Portuguese defender Jose Fonte during the Europa League Group H football match Sparta Prague v Lille (LOSC) in Prague, Czech Republic, on October 22, 2020.

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“He is driven and is showing that on the pitch. For an 18-year-old boy he is already very well built and he is a great all-round player for his age, but he is a goalscorer.
“He can have an impact on the game and create chances and I’m hopeful he will have influence with the national team because he is prepared for it and he can do it. To be top scorer in Czech League is not easy, he has a very bright future.”
Rosicky says that he spoke to Hlozek about representing the national team but insisted that the youngster’s mentality means that he does not have to.
The forward has been strongly linked with former Premier League Champions Liverpool, and West Ham, who already have two members of the current squad on their books in centre-back Vladimir Coufal and midfield warrior Tomas Soucek.
There is no discussion on potential transfers but Rosicky does say that he thinks the player’s future is through the middle even though he has been used out wide.
“Yes for sure that will be his position,” he replies when he thinks he will be a striker going forward.

Tomas Rosicky during Sparta Prague training at Celtic Park on November 04, 2020

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“We have put him as a winger because we wanted to get him on the ball more, that’s why his first season or so he started wide, but as he grew up he started to play more in the middle and play as a striker or No 10.
“For us this season for sure he’ll be used as nine or a 10 only, that’s his position, he’s a striker or second striker and that’s where his career will go.”
Perhaps unsurprisingly for a player coached by legendary talent developer Arsene Wenger, Rosicky feels immense satisfaction seeing Hlozek in the squad.
“I’m very happy with that because that’s one of my aims that I’m trying to do here - to see that players from our academy will get their chance if they deserve it.
“Since I’m here I’ve known Adam since he was 15 when he was slowly started to be integrated into the first team.
I could watch him grow and that was great. For me it’s fun as well to watch them and see them grow and give them tips that makes me happy.
What about Soucek then? Rosicky believes he is the key player this summer and he shows “the drive” that will be key for a team that is built on teamwork. He also believes that this could be a great chance for Bayer Leverkusen striker Patrik Schick to show his quality as he is a “very fine player who is very skilled technically.”
Rosicky believes the Czech team “will be tough to play against” despite the recent defeat against Italy and points instead to the recent draw against tournament favourites Belgium.
How does he feel about the team going into the tournament? “Curious” is the one-word response before he gets back to plotting the future at his boyhood club.
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