Vladimir Smicer: How Neville can make switch from player to coach

Former Liverpool midfielder tells Si Hughes about his key role with the Czech Republic

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The Independent Online

Vladimir Smicer thinks very little of offices. The former Liverpool midfielder is provided with one, of course, as an executive of a national team's football association should be; his is in central Prague in the labyrinth of corridors beyond the gates that mark the entrance to the Czech Republic FA.

An average day for him, however, is spent out and about; scouting players, speaking to them, canvassing their opinions on all manner of issues. "Football and non-football. Being valued as a person is crucial," he says from the team's pre-Euro 2012 training base in Graz, Austria. Smicer helps with coaching but his official title is "sports manager". Essentially, he's the go-between – providing a link from the squad to the head coach, the authoritarian Michal Bilek.

"Michal is the manager and he makes the decisions," Smicer adds. "I present to him what I think and he can choose what he wants. My part is more supportive, helping with the media and helping the players prepare.

"I'm quite free. It is more important communicating with people face to face rather than writing things down and completing paperwork for my superiors. You can tell a lot about a person when you see them."

Smicer has been in the job since 2009. He has had a series of friendly matches and a qualifying campaign for this summer's European Championship to adjust to the position. Gary Neville, essentially appointed as England's version of him, will have a matter of only weeks to figure out how to play his new role. Smicer, though admitting it took him a while to find the right approach, believes Neville's recruitment on a four-year contract has been an astute move by Roy Hodgson.

"You are on the other side," he says. "I played with some of the players. Sometimes it is better if you don't know too much about them personally. They knew stuff about me from the dressing room as well. But Neville has performed at the highest level in recent times. He has a lot of experience with [Manchester] United and the players know all about him.

"Sometimes you must be hard if the players aren't doing what you want. So your relationship changes."

Like Neville, Smicer travels to Poland and Ukraine with three different European Championship campaigns behind him. The pair both collected more than 80 international caps in careers that spanned across three decades.

"Because we don't have the biggest-named players in European football, maybe we can surprise a few people," Smicer says of the Czech Republic's chances in Poland and Ukraine. They are in Group A with Poland, Russia and Greece, with their first game against Russia on the opening day likely to be especially pivotal to their chances of reaching the knockout stages.

"We will be based in Wroclaw, just 220 miles from Prague, Smicer says. "It means lots of fans will be there, behind us. We have left nothing to chance."

Ironically, the administration of such planning was organised, in part, from Smicer's office.

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