x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

A graceful exit

Pavel Nedved knows that, one day, it will all end. Until last week, when he announced that this season would be his last, he did not know when it was going to happen.

Pavel Nedved, left, will retire from football this summer.
Pavel Nedved, left, will retire from football this summer.

Pavel Nedved knows that, one day, it will all end. Until last week, when he announced that this season would be his last, he did not know when it was going to happen. But he does know he wants to leave something behind. Much like in life. Ask him and his wife Ivana why they named their two children Pavel and Ivana and they will reply: "Because one day we'll die, but Pavel and Ivana Nedved will still be around."

A man who thinks like that, to paraphrase Dylan Thomas, does not go quietly into that good night. He rages against the dying of the light. Which is why, when he does retire, he will do so a few months shy of his 37th birthday. Given that he plays with throbbing intensity and clockwork consistency, makes his achievement all the more remarkable. He had his chance to go gracefully three years ago. Juventus, mired in the Calciopoli scandal, were demoted to Serie B. He had a chance to walk out, head held high, as a champion (while Juventus were stripped of the title, Bianconeri supporters and much of the players still feel the 2005-06 scudetto was fully earned on the pitch).

Instead, he said he had a job to do. To help Juventus return to where they belong: at the top of Serie A. It is that single-mindedness that has driven him throughout his career. In 2001, Juventus spent US$50 million (Dh233m) to secure his services so that he could replace a certain Zinedine Zidane. He led them to the title straight away, something his predecessor had failed to do in the previous three years.

He lacked Zidane's grace and creativity but made up for it with strength, drive and workrate. This, to some degree, explains why his trophy cabinet is close to bursting: he has won six league titles - nine if you count the two that were stripped as part of the scandal plus the Serie B crown - with Sparta Prague, Lazio and Juventus as well as a Cup-Winners' Cup and three domestic cups. Medals may not tell you much about talent, but they do say something about character.

And, once given out, they cannot be taken away. They last forever: like the Ballon d'Or he won in 2003. His body may not follow his mind's instructions as efficiently as it once did, back in the day when Sven-Goran Eriksson called him a cyborg. But watch him roam the flank, selflessly chasing back and hurtling forward, and lashing the ball goalward and there will be moments when you think you have travelled back to 2003.

Tonight he will lead Juventus out in the Turin derby against Torino. In the early Serie A games, upstarts Genoa host league- leading Inter Milan and Roma square off against Udinese. gmarcotti@thenational.ae