April 23rd 2017 will forever be remembered as a tragic day for Czech and indeed Turkish Football. The events of this day shook the Turkish city of Gaziantep and reverberated back to the Czech cities of Plzen and Příbram.
The Turkish Football Club, Gaziantepspor, were training when players noticed that their Czech international teammate František Rajtoral was not in attendance at the session. Tragically, after the authorities had been called and had investigated, Rajtoral was found locked in his apartment having taken his own life.
The 31 year old had joined Gaziantepspor in August 2016 from Viktoria Plzen, where aside from a short loan spell at Hannover 96 in Germany for the 2nd half of the 2013/14 season he had been a mainstay on the right hand side of Plzen’s much heralded and successful side who have dominated much of the Czech game from 2009 onwards.
Rajtoral was born in the Czech city of Příbram, around 37 miles to the south west of Prague. He started his career at the local FK Marila Příbram, playing there between 2004 and 2005 before then moving to Banik Ostrava where he played until 2009. It was in 2009 when he then joined Pavel Vrba’s revolution at Viktoria Plzen.
Until Vrba began his first stint at Plzen in 2008, they had been something of a mid table yo-yo club, rising and falling between the top and 2nd leagues. A 5th place finish in the 1993/94 season was the best that Plzen could muster, succumbing to 3 relegations in the next 15 years – but bouncing back within 2 seasons on each occasion.
Vrba came into Plzen and adopted an attractive and attacking style of football, this led to a Czech Cup victory (the first in the club’s history) in 2009/10 before the club’s first ever League Championship in the 2010/11 season.
The main facets of Vrba and Plzen’s success were, as above, the offensive and attractive football style adopted. Central to this was the favoured 4-2-3-1 formation which allowed for stability while also providing for an attacking approach with players such as David Limbersky on the left side of defence, Daniel Kolar in the “number 10” role behind a main striker, and Rajtoral providing energy and endeavour up the right hand side, either in winger or right back roles.
Rajtoral’s form for Plzen contributed to their success, winning 4 League Championships, the Czech Super Cup and representing Plzen in the Champions League. This form also led to call ups to the National squad, for whom he won 14 caps and was in the squad for the Euro 2012 European Championship.
Pavel Vrba’s departure from Plzen in December 2013, coincided with Rajtoral moving to Hannover 96 on loan the following January. Rajtoral returned to Plzen at the beginning of the following season and further success followed before his £450,000 move to Turkey in July 2016.
Along with Rajtoral, his Plzen teammate Daniel Kolar also moved to Gaziantepspor at this time. Kolar however only made 8 appearances for Gaziantepspor and returned to Plzen early in 2017. This along with the breakup of his long term girlfriend in 2016 left Rajtoral without any familiar faces in Turkey prior to the tragic events of April 2017.
A fantastic right sided player in his time, Rajtoral lit up Czech and European Football as a key part of Viktoria Plzen’s Golden Era. He was taken early, but has not been forgotten and Viktoria Plzen in particular have been keen to state their remembrance and respect for their former player and teammate.
One way which Plzen are certainly honouring the memory of Rajtoral has been their exceptional, and record breaking, form so far this season. Pavel Vrba has returned and set about re-establishing Plzen’s dominance in the league following Slavia Prague’s title win last year. After 16 games, winning a record 14 in a row before drawing (and then winning once more thereafter) Plzen find themselves 14 points clear at the top of the table. This chasm at the top is further put into perspective when you consider that between places 6 and 16 (bottom) in the league, just 13 points separate all 11 sides.
The attacking philosophy has been well and truly evident so far this season. Plzen have notched up 34 goals in their unbeaten start of the season (7 more than the next best scorers) while in conceding only 5 offers a clear illustration of their dominance in games so far.
Vrba’s favoured 4-2-3-1 formation has been well utilised. David Limbersky remains a strong and immovable presence at left back as he was at the start of the Golden Era in 2009. New players like Jan Kopic have come in and added flair, skill and inventiveness on the left side of the attacking midfield positions. The form of Michal Krmencik has also been remarkable, a striker who had never previously been overly prolific in front of goal has found a rich vein of form this season and been banging in the goals for fun so far.
Daniel Kolar, one of the focal points of the original Golden Era playing in the central attacking midfield “number 10” role and he who moved to Turkey along with Rajtoral in 2016 has also found a real purple patch of form. Leading by example in his central role, Kolar has captained the side throughout the season, driving his side forward at every opportunity and playing a prominent role in Plzen’s dominance of the League. In the top of the table clash with Sparta on Matchday 13, Kolar seemed desperate to lead his side to victory, coming close with a first half header from 12 yards and then missing a sitter of a header from 7 yards early in the second half. He was not to be denied though, cracking in a stunning 25 yard swerving drive to win the match for Plzen against the reigning champions.
This was a key match in the season so far and offered a clear indication of Plzen’s intent to regain their title from Slavia. This offered a demonstration of their attacking intent and power, even when faced up against the strongest of opponents. This is form that has been maintained throughout the season so far and even been translated into European competition.
While the death of František Rajtoral was absolutely tragic and cannot be revisited, and while words and sentiment can provide comfort and reassurance to those who loved and cared for him, the form of Plzen is in a different way an appropriate method of offering remembrance and respect for a footballing hero. In his time at Plzen, Rajtoral embodied the attacking, swashbuckling and predominantly successful characteristics of the Golden Plzen side. Their form this season has been nothing but extraordinary, the unstoppable juggernaut has kept on sweeping past all in from of them domestically, aside from a 0-0 draw versus Teplice, albeit that did follow midweek European exertions so is potentially excusable in the circumstances. Plzen look forward to the second half of the season in an exceptional position, even with a drop off in domestic form, perhaps to offer added focus in Europe, the title is certainly theirs to lose at this stage.
The offensive and attacking play which has embodied much of the season so far is something that Rajtoral would certainly have applauded. The season so far has been a great way to pay tribute to one of the most prominent and valued members of Plzen’s Golden Side.
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