Off came Milan Baros and on went Tomas Pekhart. The switch caused the biggest cheer of the night, and as Baros trundled towards the bench, the cheers grew louder.
They may have been directed at Baros, but they were not for him: almost everyone in Prague’s Letna Stadium was jeering him.
This was Milan Baros, the Czech Republic’s golden boy and top scorer at Euro 2004, and an unlikely Champions League winner with Liverpool in 2005, now reduced to the status of pantomime villain, a figure the fans now love to hate, but someone Bilek, a coach who also suffers from a lack of popularity, has no hesitation in backing.
Baros is likely to start again in this week’s friendly against Ireland, a game Bilek will use to formulate his tactics before their Euro 2012 opener against Russia. When Baros has played as part of a two-man strike-force, in a 4-2-2-2 system, the wide creative players Tomas Rosicky and Jaroslav Plasil have too often drifted infield; and when Bilek plays 4-2-3-1, as he did in the play-off win over Montenegro, Baros is too often isolated.
What is astonishing is that Baros now seems unlikely to break Jan Koller’s all-time Czech scoring record of 55 goals. By the time he was 23, Baros already had 21 international goals. His current tally stands at 39 but he has scored only eight in his last 31 matches, and five of those came against San Marino and Liechtenstein. It’s not just these figures that have made Baros a target for the boo-boys.
His behaviour has left much to be desired too, in particular his involvement in a series of scandals that left his reputation in tatters. First, after the 2006 World Cup, Baros was photographed dancing bare-chested with a condom tied in his hair. Czech paper Dnes said he was “risking his name, his career and his talent”, while former Czech international Radek Drulak was outspoken in warning Baros not to ruin his career.
In April 2007, when he was at French champions Lyon, Baros was accused of racially abusing Rennes’s midfielder Stephane M’Bia, after pinching his nose and waving his hand in the Cameroonian’s direction. He was cleared of racism but still banned for three games by the French league’s disciplinary committee. The following year, Baros lost his driving licence after he was clocked speeding at 168mph in his black Ferrari.
Baros was also part of the ‘Gang of Six’ who were photographed drinking with women on the night of the Czech Republic’s dismal 2-1 defeat to Slovakia in April 2009. The six players were banned and the scandal eventually led to coach Petr Rada’s dismissal. Since then, Baros, who is now married with two children and claims to have calmed down, has kept a much lower profile. He is in his fourth season at Galatasaray, for whom he has scored 48 goals in 82 league games, though he is yet to win a trophy in Turkey.
According to Bilek, he is still the best striking option.
“He is my number one for this team,” said the coach, while captain Rosicky added: “Show me a player who can make such clever runs against the opponents’ defence as Milan does.” Baros’s single goal in qualifying, against Liechtenstein, was his only one since September 2009.
Bilek’s other options for Ireland are just as short of goals: David Lafata and Pekhart have 23 caps and two international goals between them.
There was a certain inevitability when Baros was one of the culprits after the Czechs beat Montenegro in the Euro 2012 play-off; the whole team had celebrated on the flight home and, on arriving back at four in the morning at Prague airport, got off the plane still drunk and with their suits ripped. It was no surprise that Baros was one of the players who walked through the airport without even wearing trousers: photographers snapping the scene had an unpleasant shock when they realised he was just wearing a thong. The photo made the front pages of all the country’s tabloids.
“Thank you to the fans who supported us and to those who criticised and wanted us to fail, you can kiss my arse,” Baros said after the win.
“I will always be a rebel and I will never care what people are saying about me.”