Three hours. I couldn’t give my girlfriend three stupid hours a day.
Not even for one day. Not one cinema visit or one dinner.
I could not afford one moment where I’d stop focusing on the one thing that consumed me; the one area where I had put all of my effort.
Not one single day in almost five months have I stepped off of this path. Ten hours a day, I was at the stadium practicing. Again and again, I flexed all the muscles in my body while my hands worked against the stronger or weaker resistance bands. Sometimes it was 11 hours, sometimes even 14.
Maybe you think I’m lying. Even my friends sometimes don’t believe me and I myself find it incredible that I was able to endure this, but I simply shut down the outside world and decided that I would make it. It was an extreme approach. I became a maniac. A maniac with one specific goal.
Every one of those days. Every hour. Every exercise, every rep was completed with that goal in mind. All of this time I kept a series of images in front of my eyes to drive me to greater heights. A movie in which I had the lead role. A movie made from scenes with me on top; when I stood on the pitch in the biggest football games and decided the result of the match with my performance.
You see, limits don’t exist for me. A person can do whatever they dream. If they sacrifice everything they can, there will be a reward. What you give, you get back. That’s what I believe.
I believed that throughout those five months when I flexed specific muscles in correct positions again and again to make them stronger and allow me to return to big-time football in sufficient condition.
I knew there was no other way. I couldn’t budge. I couldn’t take breaks.
If I did, I’d betray my dreams. I’d betray my family, my girlfriend and Paulina Novotná, an exceptional compensatory exercise specialist and my guardian angel who went through all of this with me.
I’d betray myself. My warrior’s heart. My belief is that I’m the best and it’s up to me to show it to the rest of the world.
Sometimes, a big obstacle would stop me, but it was still just an obstacle; one of many that tried to halt my journey and failed.
All that was necessary was for the clubs to consummate a deal and I’d end up in AC Milan. That’s how simple it was after my first season in Italy. The transfer from Slavia Prague to Udine was amazing for me, and my performance improved in my first year in Serie A. So much that my current agent, Sergio Berti, contacted me with an offer from Milan.
Immediately, I knew I wanted to go. Milan made an offer which we declined, then they raised the offer to the asking price, yet still we declined.
Meanwhile, I was in Milan, talking to their sporting director Massimiliano Mirabelli. He explained their vision to rebuild the team with an eye toward a return to the top of European football. He told me that I’d have a place on this team. Coach Gennaro Gattuso knew what kind of player I was and he knew why he wanted me. To hear this and to have an opportunity to work with him or the legend Paol Maldini, who was already part of the leadership back then, was exciting. To have an opportunity to play with Romagnoli and Donnarumma; who would say no to that? Only a madman.
I generally think that an athlete’s fortunes rise and fall, but if a player has a chance to move to a better club, they should do it. I don’t like it when someone’s waiting around for a better opportunity. That’s nonsense. If you get the opportunity, take it. Take it and you’ll see if it was the right call or not. You can always go back but at least you’ll get a great experience, meet new people and learn new things.
I called Stefan Simič who back then practiced with AC Milan’s A-team. I also got a phone number for Marek Jankulovský so I could speak with him about the club. I never got to make that call because Udine simply refused to let me go.
It was the first time in my career that my mind was off for the whole prep. I didn’t focus on myself in the present, I was just seeing myself in the jersey of Milan. That was obviously a mistake. I didn’t start my season right because of this, I sustained a muscle strain and I brought back inflammation in my Achilles tendon from the national team camp in October.
However, the Udine president still pushed me to play no matter what. I was playing with great pain and instead of running I was literally just limping. I was overloading one side of my body more than the other and that created a problem with my back.
In a few weeks during a warm-up in a game against AC Milan, I felt a sudden sharp pain. I knew that pain from earlier in my life, but I’ll get to that. I went back home where within a dozen minutes I couldn’t even stand up from a chair. The pain was insane. I went back to the club that day and the doctors tried giving me injections to relax my muscles.
It didn’t work.
The next week, I had two check-ups, one in Czechia with doctor Smíšek and one with a specialist in Milan. They both agreed on the same course and recommended a month-long recovery. My agent and Udine’s physiotherapist joined me at the Italian doctor to make sure I understood all the words correctly. Everything seemed clear to me. A one-month recovery, just to get back in shape.
I returned for the team dinner before the match and because the whole management staff was there I stopped by to tell them my results. The president told me that the club doctor told them that I’d be back in practice in three days. What was I talking about?
We fought, but I didn’t resist my superior’s pressure and went back to training in just three days. In a few weeks, my condition worsened so much that I had one whole leg paralyzed and couldn’t sleep among other things.
The club wanted to treat me with corticoids so I could at least suffer through the games, but I disagreed. I told them I was going to approach it differently. I was going to take half a year off to allow my body to heal and recover.
They threatened not to pay me. I told them I didn’t care. If they wanted to do it that way then I’d buy a ticket and fly home. It was too important to me to recover and get my body fully functional so I could continue my career. I didn’t back off the second time.
This was the exact moment in my football life which, if I had screwed it up, god knows whether I'd still be playing today. And if so, at the same level.
The year 2019 was just beginning, bringing with it my almost-five-month-long program with Paulina Novotná.
From the interview space to our home dressing room leads a staircase in Příbram. I was walking up this way after a match with Sparta Praha where we lost 4-0 and heard a tremendous shouting behind the door.
Roman Rogoz, back then our sports director and a Czech football celebrity, was furious. He was kicking things and broke a laundry basket.
I quietly slipped into my seat and, like other teammates, lowered my head to listen to his fury. I went in to play in the second half when we were down 2-0 and being 20 years old at the time, I felt that I couldn't do anything in that particular game. I didn’t have the qualities to lead my team in a way that we could actually do something against the league’s leader. Sparta was simply much better than us.
Despite that, Rogoz turned his attention to me and started yelling at me. He dragged my dad into it as well. My dad used to teach at a local sports school and coached Příbram’s juniors. Rogoz told me that I only play because of him.
I had tears in my eyes but not because of sadness; because of helplessness. An inner well of emotions, mostly anger, wanted to burst out but I held it inside. I remember expecting to explode every second and face his unfair bullshit.
My inner voice yelled at me: “Don’t do it. Don’t do it, don’t be an idiot. Don’t ruin your career. Hang in there. It’s all going to turn on you.”
In similar situations that repeat in football, I always tried to remind myself that it’s my career and I can’t let them provoke me; let them get to me over such a trivial thing. I cannot allow myself to do anything stupid, like an outburst of emotions that I might later regret. At the end of my career, I want to look back and say that I made it somewhere and couldn’t go any further because of my skills, not because I made a mistake or because I blew it.
To oppose Rogoz would have been such a mistake. Whatever his behaviour, whatever his reputation, at that moment he was my superior and any insubordination on my part would have only backfired.
I managed to stay calm back then and when Rogoz left, I locked myself in the video room and just cried. I cried like a baby until our goalie, Aleš Hruška, came in and tried to talk to me. I didn’t even have the strength to answer.
I was frustrated and didn’t know what to do next. Football stopped making sense to me at that moment. I despised it, asking myself why I was even playing. Was this really the thing I had loved in my childhood? Is this where my passion and need to compare to my idols — world-class — players had led me?
I left the shower and the stadium last. Because I didn’t have a driver's license back then, I jumped into my parents’ car. I cried on our way home. I couldn’t do anything else and wasn’t able to talk until dinner.
My mom slept badly for two weeks because of it. It only added to the bad situation my dad had at the club, but he told me: “Don’t let it ruin football for you. You’ll see. One day, we’ll laugh about it, whether you end up playing top football or not. Make your own judgement and stay calm.”
I have a feeling that coach Tobiáš didn’t even want me to play in that season when I returned from hosting in Vlašim. Ever since the beginning and even after the incident with the owner of the club, Starka had my back. He was the one who made them give me a chance and I’m sure he had my back even in his situation.
A week later, I scored my first league goal in Ostrava and added a few more before the end of the season. Mladá Boleslav called and said that they were interested in me; coach Jarolím wanted me. In December, he called me, trying to persuade me, but I already had an offer from Slavia and chose to accept it. Because of the club’s facilities, fans and a new investor, Šimáně, who promised to build something new. It was something that I wanted to be a part of.
When Slavia called and Příbram’s management started to negotiate my winter transfer, their opinion of me completely changed. They suddenly saw money in me, which is fine and understandable. Professional football is business. For me, this meant that a month after I heard that I didn’t have what it took to play in the league, I pretty much never left the pitch and saw that it was my time to shine. I could focus on myself, knowing that in a while, I’d be part of one of the most ambitious brands in the country. I’d help the club that raised me, the one that I loved.
I'd once again show how wrong everybody had been.
I heard a lot of talk about how I would never play pro football when I was growing up. Until I practiced under my dad there was no issue. No teammates or parents ever felt like I enjoyed favoritism; that I didn’t deserve my place on the team. We were a close group and we had fun playing together.
Once I moved to the older division and didn’t make the A-team right away, suddenly I was slow. I was not strong enough. I wasn't bad but I missed this and that. And the junior national team? No way I was getting there.
My dad used to tell me that he heard the talk, but he also always added that it didn’t matter. “It’s all up to you. If you’ll do the work and have fun, you have a huge chance to be good,” he used to say.
But I didn’t get into the junior selection at first. Despite having great performances later in the year, coach Csaplár, who was in charge of our year, completely overlooked me. I’m not complaining, it’s a fact.
Today we laugh with my parents when they tell me how mom used to tell my dad to put in a good word for me with Csaplár because they were friends. “I’ll never do that! Never! I’ll never help and prepare a path for him. He needs to work for it on his own. And don’t tell me to do that again or I won’t talk to you,” my dad used to say with a very irritated voice.
Amazingly, he withstood that pressure. He knew back then that there was no need to rush. Even though it may have seemed like a lot was at stake, everything has its time.
The distrust of my surroundings motivated me like nothing else. All of those people I knew who didn’t think I was good enough, with Rogoz at the helm, hurt me a lot, but they also helped me tremendously and I can only thank them today. They made me better.
I began to play for the national team regularly in U20 team. I’ve been a part of it ever since.
It was a classic squat. A simple squat without any weight at the gym. I was 16. I didn’t have any problems or issues that might hint that my body was not healthy. No muscle injuries.
The sting in my back came completely without a warning. Suddenly, I felt a sharp pain and I couldn’t think about anything else. I fell down on the ground, face down and remained in a spasm. I writhed on the floor and the response to any movement of any part of my body just produced more pain. It's hard to describe nerve pain. It's something like when you lay down on your hand too much. You feel it and know you can’t do anything about it.
I found myself completely paralyzed, confused and helplessly started crying. I was thinking that I would never walk again. Not that I wouldn’t be able to play sports, but that I wouldn’t be able to move at all.
Coach Černý, who was obviously shocked, carried me with other colleagues to the parking lot where my parents immediately came. My dad came straight from school. They loaded me into the back of their car and we went to the hospital.
I still couldn’t move an inch of my body and I waited for someone to come and tell me what was going on. A doctor, a nurse, whoever. “It is this issue, we have this treatment for it. You’ll be fine. It’s going to be alright.”
But no one was coming. They just wheeled me from one examination area to another and they still couldn’t figure out what was wrong with me.
The first night passed. Then a whole day. A second night. A second day, a third, a fourth. All sorts of painkilling drugs flowed into me from the IV and they gradually started to work, but the cause of my problems was still a mystery.
I had to work it all out on my own. My family and friends visited me, they were there for me, I had their support, but in the end, it was just me alone with my thoughts. I couldn’t find a suitable answer. I had nothing to lean on.
Time needed to pass. I needed patience and belief that it would be better in the morning. And it really was. But on the third day after I came back from the hospital, and when I was about to start functioning again, an incredible fatigue overcame me.
I slept for 22 hours a day. I wasn’t able to walk from my room to the toilet, which was about 10 meters. I couldn’t get up. I was giving my body signals, but it didn’t react.
My problem was back. It took a different form, but the helplessness had returned.
My parents didn’t know how to help me and the doctors had numerous readings but couldn’t figure out what was wrong. They defined it as fatigue syndrome and no medication worked for it. All I was hearing was: “We have to wait. Time will tell.”
I was lying at home and my mom was bringing me food in bed, but I didn’t even want to eat or talk. Both were exhausting. I was like this for weeks before I started getting better slowly. And when I say slowly, I mean that instead of 22 hours, I slept for 18. Then 16. Then 12.
When I could finally stand up, my dad took me to his friend in Rokycany, doctor Hána, an expert in sports medicine. He put me on a treadmill and I walked. really slowly, at the pace of a shuffling stroll for maybe two minutes. Then he took my blood and evaluated it for various indicators.
I did this every two weeks, each time with a slightly higher load. The parameters of the result gradually improved. That’s when I finally felt motivated to fight again. My problems were slowly disappearing.
With light jogging, where I’d spend five minutes jogging and five minutes walking, I’d gradually started to increase the load, even going outside. However, it was still greatly controlled so I wouldn’t get tired. They did not want me to overdo it.
After six months, when I was able to run at an easy pace for 20 minutes at once, we found out from the readings that I had contracted Lyme disease as a kid. It was never treated and it may have been the cause of my problems. I didn’t even know I ever had it, but the illness stayed with me for all those years.
We started adding some old-school advice to my medical treatment as well, like a spoonful of apple cider every morning. During my winter prep, more than half a year after the start of my issues in the gym, I started once again practicing with the juniors. Everything was going so well that I played everywhere I could in the spring with no issues in my back whatsoever. I was doing better than expected on the pitch and helped get our team back to the league.
However, gradually, I started having minor issues. A knee here injury, an ankle injury there.
That’s when I first met Paulina Novotná, who worked under doctor Smíšek in Příbram and was practicing a method called the SM system. It uses rubber straps to strengthen the whole body and straighten you into a correct posture. You hold one part of a rubber strap in each hand around waist height and do individual exercises within a specific position. Some exercises were for strengthening, some were more for power. They increase the elasticity of the muscles, open up your spinal canals, regenerate the spine and joints, and help you breathe properly.
I quickly realized that it made sense to trust this method. It was helping me.
From that point of view, my problems came at the right time – during adolescence when I didn’t have as many bad habits and I wasn’t that educated when it came to taking care of my body. I didn’t know what was right and what was wrong. I did what my coaches and conditioning specialists told me. I trusted that they wanted the best for me.
Today, I know how the body works and if someone told me to go do a squat with a weight, I wouldn’t do it in a million years. I know that I’d risk an injury that would impact my performance.
Since then I have completely cut off exercises with extra weight in Příbram. I only do exercises with my own weight. Later in Slavia and Udine, I had to adapt, but since my second back injury, I have only my own program. I haven't had a barbell in my hand for years. Instead, I’ve been doing the SM system exercises for eight years.
One hour in the morning before practice, and again in the evening. I found my own rhythm and relaxation that exercise represents for me. It’s similar to when people go to yoga. I clear my mind and for a set period I focus on nothing else but my body.
This method definitely saved my career. It helped me recover from any health issues and still keeps me healthy today. In the past two years, I may have skipped about three practices. Not more. That is unique at this level. Many players have lingering health issues. I have teammates who are not even able to practice for a week straight. They prepare with the team for two or three days a week and spend the other days trying to recover. Their bodies can’t take the heavy and sustained load.
I feel firm, mobile and flexible, which comes in handy in a contact sport like football. We’re always in a fight. We jump, we fall. My body can take much more during these situations. I don’t consider myself an ironman, but I’m not made of glass. The exercises also give me an immense confidence boost, knowing how much more I work on myself in comparison to others.
And when obstacles or critiques come from the news or fans, I’m chill. I know my qualities. I know my goal and what I’m doing to get there. The energy spent is not wasted. If things don’t go well, it will turn around again. I have absolutely no doubt about that. That’s why I’m not worried about myself football-wise.
“You can go fuck yourself, too.”
I was a bit drunk, maybe for the first time in my life and 18 years old. I simply didn’t want to take it any more. We were sitting in a wine cellar in Prague when a teammate shouted at me from his table where he sat with other older guys.
I didn’t keep quiet like usual. I gave him what he deserved; for how he treated me.
He was one of the most experienced players on the team. He had a strong position on the club while I was one of the youngest. But I played the same position as him and I wanted to show at practice that I deserved a chance. I’d put him under pressure.
He was a great player who had an amazing career. If he was on the field, it didn't bother me, but I deserved the coach’s attention as well. If I demanded it through my play, then that was fine. But I guess he felt threatened so he made it very clear that he didn’t like it. He called me names. He was pretty mean to me.
In one of the pre-game bulletins I wrote that my dream was to play for Arsenal. Shortly afterwards, I was in the gym, unable to do a simple exercise with a medicine ball aimed at my abs because I was just a teenager who, compared to adult men, looked like a twig.
He didn’t let it slip.
“You playing for Arsenal? Yeah? Look at you, you’re nothing, absolute shit. You can’t even play here,” he said.
I wasn’t mentally strong enough to face him and say something back. But it got to me. Thanks to my upbringing, I have always tried to be humble, not to show my self-confidence. My goal among these older players was not to attract too much attention, then show them on the pitch that I belonged. I was glad for the chance I had and I was ready to carry water bottles and even clean their cleats before I built my position. That’s how I felt.
But I was a bit drunk. Just as I told him that he should go fuck himself, the situation escalated. He got up, wanting to fight me. At that moment, I realized it would probably have ended this way no matter what. He was just waiting for an excuse.
"Okay, so he’s gonna beat me here," I thought. "I have no chance against him physically. So what? I can’t run. Let’s get this over with. It’s gonna hurt for a while. Whatever."
All of this was running through my head while he was trying to get to me over other teammates’ chairs.
I had never fought. I used to go to Dan Jerling for a year when I was a boy to box and try some MMA basics to get some muscles and courage, but I don’t like violence. In Příbram, our little Palermo in the middle of Bohemia, I didn’t experience one event, one disco, where people wouldn’t fight — and I really mean not one – but I never took part in those fights.
I didn’t have to participate this time either. I understand why none of the young players faced him, but the older guys didn’t say a word until one teammate finally stood up for me.
He stood in front of the man and delivered a line that felt like it was from a movie: “Don’t touch my little Tony. If you want anything with him, you'll have to go through me first.”
The guy got scared. He packed his stuff and left the cellar immediately.
We all in Czech football know who Miro is. Along with his national team career, he started a career as an MMA fighter. He has it in him. He is a bulldog who doesn’t feel pain, which is why he was successful in football. He was one of my role models because he went to the same school and came up through Příbram juniors as well. Just like František Rajtoral, he was evidence that even from our small club, you could go abroad and make it to the national team.
That he protected me at that moment on his own was a big victory for me. Even today when I remember that evening, it moves me. I told Miroslav once that in that moment he showed me how a good man with moral values should act. He almost became a part of my family. I respect him.
Back then, I invited him over for a shot, which was probably the only possible thank you I could have given him within the atmosphere of a team party. It didn’t make sense to do anything more. We sat to the side of the others and chatted for a while.
Miro was one of the few people who gave me courage. He often told me to believe in myself and work hard. Others like him were Jan Rezek and Roman Bednář. Whatever you hear about him, no matter how some might label him a problematic player, to me he was always the man who supported young boys and was able to help anybody to support anybody. He was a great teammate and he himself didn’t have it easy.
I saw the teammate who wanted to fight with me only briefly afterward. I went to Vlašim and he didn’t continue in Příbram, but I know that when I transferred to Slavia, he would go to my dad and tell him how amazing I was, and that he always believed in me.
I don’t hold it against him. I forgave him with time, but back then it was hard. Even though I still wouldn’t be able to sit down with him and have a coffee, I’d like to know his point of view. I don’t blame him. There were simply things that escalated in that moment, but it all ended fine.
Besides, it showed me the character of Miro, and my face stayed in one piece.
I was frustrated. I kept asking myself why the hell they bought me. "What am I doing here?"
After my winter transfer to Slavia, I talked with Coach Uhrin a couple of times at the beginning of prep, but after that, for weeks, we didn’t exchange a single word. During the first six games in spring, I played exactly two minutes. For the rest of the time, I was just warming the bench or not even that. They’d send me to their juniors.
It didn’t make sense. I was thinking that I should probably suffer through that season and then ask to be sent somewhere where I could play. But then in a Prague derby, Josef Hušbauer got injured and I got a chance to play in the next round against Dukla Praha. We won 1-0 and I played well. My position started to change. In the last three rounds, I scored four goals. The coach had to let me play.
But at the start of the new season, we played some pre-rounds of the European league. Just like in our league, I played at first, then not until we tried to get revenge against Anderlecht after getting beaten 3-0 at home.
Instead, we got the exact same result. Anderlecht had an interesting, young team for which we had no answer. Coach Uhrin took me off the pitch during halftime. My performance was really bad, but objectively, it was a team disaster. We all failed. After the match, he told me I wasn't good enough and he moved me to juniors.
We had a heated discussion about that after the match. Simply put: I disagreed with his assessment and he disagreed with me disagreeing.
That happened on a Thursday. During the weekend the A-team lost to Plzeň 3-1 and the management fired Uhrin. Had the boys played well back then, god knows how my career in Slavia would have turned out. But we got coach Šilhavý instead and I got back to the A-team within three days. From the second game under Šilhavý, I started playing regularly and that’s when everything began to take shape.
Two months later, I made the national team. In January, my transfer to Italy was confirmed and the season ended with a title and a Euro championship for U21.
You never really know what events will move you to the place where you want to be. The bottom line is that you have to do everything you can to achieve your goal, whatever the circumstances.
My alarm went off and I turned it off with another day of exercise in mind. I felt good because I knew I had a plan in which I believed. When I was 16, in pain in the hospital and not knowing what was next, I was desperate and it was hard to get rid of the dark thoughts stemming from uncertainty.
Now I was waking up happy, knowing that I was about to do something annoying but something that had a purpose. I knew that I would return to the pitch thanks to it, not only healthy, but also better than ever.
Paulina told me at the beginning: “Do not expect anything, but we will make it through. I have faith that we will. If you don’t have this faith then I’m not even gonna bother coming.”
I immediately replied that I did have faith. From then on, it wasn’t an issue at all. I didn’t budge a thousandth of a millimeter from that faith.
Paulina managed to organize her time so that she could spend the whole time, almost five months, in Udine with me. She moved into our house. We used to leave at 9 a.m. in the morning to go to the stadium where I’d stay until 8 p.m. All the time. Like a robot.
Physical effort was not an issue. The body could take it. But mentally, I needed to level up my willpower to the max; to the point of mental exhaustion. "I’m not weak," I told myself. "I won't give up just because it’s a hard drill. I can do this."
Paulina is my guardian angel. Thanks to her, I still play football. I will forever be grateful to her for what she did for me. Whenever I see her I always thank her again.
And my Nikola? Hats off to her for enduring this with me. I was gone every single day, and when I returned I was exhausted, physically and mentally. I was hard to be around because I had this huge anger aimed at the club. I felt a terrible injustice that they had allowed this to happen and put me in this position.
Despite my stubbornness, exercising for 10 to 14 hours a day sucks big time. The drills are one big pile of shit and you get pissed when you repeat one for the thousandth time. I don’t know if I could do it again. I reached rock bottom there. At the same time, I proved to myself that if you’re determined you can do things you didn’t think possible.
Of course, I wasn’t super enthusiastic every day. There were grey mornings with clouds in the sky. But at moments like those one thought was enough to remind me of who I am and what I want.
I have to. If I don’t, I’ll fail.
And I can’t fail. In my career and my life, I absolutely do not allow myself to fail. I can admit a mistake that moves me forward, but I don’t admit failure. That would make me abandon the path I’m on. I have a set of values and one of them is that I’m extremely persistent, always trying to break through. There is no way I’d give up. No way. I’d betray myself and that is the worst thing that can happen to a person.
That’s why even though the exercises and the circumstances pissed me off, however long and hard they were, I always said to myself that I would make it.
My day had two 10- or 15-minute breaks for a snack and with Paulina we had 20-minute breaks for lunch. In the cantina, where the rest of the team had lunch, we took the food and sat down in the corridor on the ground where we analyzed what we did and what we still had to do.
All the other times of the day, I held rubber bands in my hands and had to absolutely focus on every move. Monday through Sunday.
This regimen was fine, but it got worse in the evening at home. There I started thinking: "Why the hell is my problem not getting any better? Why are all the steps so slow that I only feel some progress after months?" Many times, I asked myself: “Why me? Why when others do crap exercises in the gym, they do not have the same problems?”
Even today I often call Paulina to tell her what some people are able to do in the gym without getting hurt. How is that possible? It’s unfair!
But that’s how it is. Everybody is different. Everybody is susceptible to something. I don’t ask these questions anymore. I’ve told myself there’s no point. I focus on myself and avoid telling anyone in the gym what to do. I don’t advise anyone. At most, I try to tell young guys to stretch and relax because it will return to them in their careers. But when I see someone loading weights and suffering under them, I laugh inside and look somewhere else, telling myself: “That’s a shame, buddy. This might slow you down one day.”
During the last few weeks of my recovery, Paulina and I added some exercises with a ball. Passes and tackles. All were carefully planned and rationed. There wasn’t a single problem in the set program. Everything went just as Paulina planned. That woman is a genius to me.
When at the very end all tests and examinations went well, she said to me: “Go on. I don’t want to see you again. You’re no longer dependent on me.” It was the last two weeks of the season: a test to see if I could actually go on without her.
I did. The very next day, I was at practice with no limitations. Let’s go! I’m back! I went all in, knowing that I did everything I could and my body would either hold up or not.
It did. I felt like I was new. Stronger than ever.
Part of a player’s contract includes a clause where the player has the right to make his own health choices. That’s why Udine couldn’t say a word to me about what I decided to do. I got to the point where I said that if they didn’t accept my treatment, I’d buy a flight home and pay for everything at my own expense, but also quit the club.
I didn’t care, I just wanted to recover. No matter the consequences, I believed this path and my health needed to come first. But I negotiated for them to let me do this and pay for everything. And they really did. I thank the old president for that. He’s the man in that regard.
At the same time, I know they did it with the goal that when they sold me, they’d cash in big time. After all, they never admitted they were wrong. But I don’t need that for my ego. Everybody makes mistakes. I just don’t understand how someone can act against someone’s health on purpose.
Even though I was ready to play, they left me out for a long time and told the outside world that I was injured, which wasn’t true. I spent pretty much the entire autumn on the bench so I began looking for a new team.
Lecce was interested in me, and everything was settled, but Udine was causing problems. They stretched out the hosting confirmation until the very last date, until the evening of the last day of the winter transfer window. I was preparing not to play again for some time when my phone rang and my agent, Sergio, told me that everything was settled and I could go.
Lecce was a great solution, but everything got complicated by the coronavirus in the spring. We had to finish the season in the summer, which delayed my transfer to Verona.
"Why can’t I have a period of time without any problems?" I asked myself several times.
But that was how it was supposed to be. Each complication is there to strengthen me. I have to make something from it. “If it was easy, it would be fun,” my dad always tells me. And he’s right. I often wish my football journey was easier but the truth is I appreciate every small success that much more. All I need to do is to remember all the obstacles I had to overcome to get here.
That’s why I’ll never turn down a chance that the football world offers. I have it here and now and now it’s up to me to do whatever I can to succeed. I am well aware of what I’ve gone through to get here.
Now I want to be the one on top. The one who just laughs at the memory of what was.
The one who knows it was all worth it.
I’m not going to act like a prima donna. I’m enjoying the life that football at this level allows me to live. At the same time, I know I’m in a position not many players in Czech football enjoy and I have to use it. For me and my family.
Every day on my way to practice I repeat: “Do everything you can so you don’t have to regret anything once you look back. Do everything today and don’t expect the result right away. It will show. Maybe in a week, maybe in a month, maybe in a year. Or maybe in 10 years, but it will show and you will move forward today anyway.”
I seriously say this to myself every time I’m arriving at the stadium.
I know it’s my inner strength which got me to the top level in my field. And I know that if I didn’t like football, I wouldn’t work this hard for it. I would never be able to go through it all.
As long as I enjoy every moment on the pitch as much as I do now, I’ll continue to move towards that thing I always kept in view during those infinite hours at the gym: Situations that only the best players in the world experience.
Jana Mensatorová a ČTK/Josef Mašek, ČTK/Kateřina Šulová, ČTK/AP/Paola Garbuio a ČTK/Xinhua/Kevin Voigt
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