If you’ve missed Tomáš Souček’s meteoric rise this season, you’ve probably lived under a rock. The Czech international has taken West Ham’s midfield – and the entire team – to new heights as ”The Hammers” surprisingly are fighting for a Champions League spot with his 8 goals in 22 appearances.
Souček joined West Ham in the summer of 2020 for around £14,2 million and has been an instant success. But those who’ve known him before his move to the Premier League are not surprised. The 25-year-old defensive midfielder was a part of one of the most successful Slavia Prague teams in the club’s 129-year-old history, as they won the Czech league and the Czech cup two times each in the last five years. That, with Souček at the base of the midfield.
The Slavia academy graduate won the Czech league Player of The Year in 2019, and in 2020 he was awarded best Czech player. But the matter of fact is, that Souček was only one of many in Slavia’s coming generation of academy products.
Historically, Slavia’s academy has produced the likes of Josef ”Pepi” Bican (ex-top scorer in world football), Antonín Puč (all-time leading goalscorer of the Czech national team), František Plánička (one of the most decorated Czech players ever), Patrick Berger, Vladimír Šmicer, Ivo Knoflíček, and František Veselý. But in modern history, their most notable players are Jakub Jankto, Antonin Barak, Jiri Pavlenka – up until the current generation and crop of players.
So, what has changed? Why has Slavia all of a sudden become one of the Czech Republic’s most thriving clubs and academies again? It starts with a new owner.
The club was on a terrific path from 2007 to 2010 when they won back-to-back league titles. But then it got exposed that the club owed 112 million Czech koruna to their previous owner EINC Sports Ltd. That led to major cost-cutting and the squad got purged on almost every single one of their best players. It got so bad that the club had to abandon a cup semifinal in 2011 against Olomouc because of fans storming the pitch in protest of the toxic financial situation the club was in.
But then came new owners in 2015. A Chinese conglomerate called CEFC China Energy Company, and since 2018 the owners are Sinobo Group and CITIC Group. Czech football expert, Pavel Jahoda, explain to FootballElements:
– Now, Slavia has the strongest position in modern history of Czech football because of their Chinese owners, who provided lots of money at the start, management staff (directors, scouts), and coaching staff. That was the most important since the manager Jindřich Trpišovský and his staff have a demanding style of play, but that style of play is the reason why guys like Tomas Souček and Vladimír Coufal have made such big improvements in their careers. It’s also why they’re so good in Premier League and capable of playing there. You can see it in the entire Slavia team that players are improving under Trpišovský – if they fit in his style, says Jahoda and continues:
– Trpišovský likes to work with players he knows. For example with Coufal and Souček, he worked with them in one of his previous teams. But, it doesn’t mean that he is not able to work with players that he doesn’t know.
The new owners did not just invest in the first team and their staff, but they invested in the academy to secure the future as well – and it will only continue to become better.
– Slavia’s academy is one of the best and most improved. That is also connected with the change of owners. The chairman of the Board, Jaroslav Tvrdik, one of the reasons for the club’s improvement, said a few months after taking over that he would like to build a big academy with many pitches, etc. But at the moment that is still a plan in the works, not reality.
But who are the players of Slavia’s upcoming generation? There are quite a few of them and at the moment, not all of them are Slavia academy graduates. But the main names are Abdallah Sima, David Zima, Peter Olyainka, and Lukas Povrod.
Abdallah Sima is a Senegalese 19-year-old striker, who at the moment is seen as the club’s next big export. This season, Sima has registered 17 goals and 4 assists in 24 appearances for the club – 10 goals and 3 assists in 12 league appearances.
With his 188cm’s he’s a tank of a striker. He’s aerially dominant, has great anticipation and movement in the box, and a clinical scorer. His build is big-sized and very athletic, but even though he mainly slots into the target man category, Sima is also technical and has pace with the capability of taking deep runs in-behind the opposition defenses.
Even though he hasn’t been brought up in the Slavia academy, he’s still somewhat seen as a Slavia product due to his young age when he joined the club.
But even though Sima is the talk of the town in the Czech league, another Slavia talent is taking great strides under the radar according to Jahoda.
– The most promising is Sima, of course, who is a fantastic player and everybody in the Czech league is talking about him. But, another very interesting name is David Zima. He’s a centre-back and is only 20-years-old. Since he moved to Slavia, he is making big steps in his career and, in my opinion, he’s too good for both the team and the league, says Jahoda.
As for Peter Olayinka and Lukas Povrod are two productive wingers in Trpišovský’s side.
25-year-old Olayinka signed for the club in 2018 and has grown tremendously under Trpišovskýs guidance. A big-sized and rather quick left-winger who is a big threat in front of goal. So far, he’s provided 9 goals and 3 assists in 22 appearances.
Provod, on the other hand, is a jack-of-all-trades. He can play left-wing, right-wing, central midfielder, and defensive midfielder. This season he’s registered 4 goals and 7 assists in 21 appearances – but in his defense, he’s been rotated a lot. Out of his 10 appearances: 10 has been at left-wing, 5 as a defensive midfielder, 4 at right-wing, 1 as central midfielder, and 1 as left midfielder.
But nevertheless, Slavia Prague is on a great path again after five years of major financial troubles and lack of titles. They now have two back-to-back league titles and are currently leading the league by 12 points. On top of that, they’re in the Europa League knockout stages and are exporting some of the best Czech players to the top five leagues. Souček and Coufal may have been the first of the pack to find their way out in Europe, but there are many players still at Slavia waiting for their turn – which will come.