All aboard gravy train

Simon Turnbull reports that football's leaving home in the Czech Republic
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The Independent Online
After football's grand coming home in England, the citizens of the Czech Republic laid on a grand homecoming for the unlikely heroes of Euro 96. Prague had seen nothing like it, apparently, since the Velvet Revolution in 1989. Yet, as the Bohemian Sekt corks popped around Wenceslas Square, the footballers were already thinking of leaving home.

For Karel Poborsky, the midfielder they call the Express Train, the three- week excursion to England has hitched him to the gravy train. Before the European Championship, he was not even one of Dusan Uhrin's first- choice players in the Czech Republic team. His club, Slavia Prague, valued him at pounds 800,000. Then he achieved the seemingly impossible: he made Paolo Maldini look a bad player at Anfield. Then came the scoop-shot which floored the Portuguese at Villa Park, and two impressive displays against France in the Old Trafford semi-final and against Germany in the final.

By last Sunday night Poborsky had a trail of bidders chasing him. Liverpool fell by the wayside when the asking price rose to pounds 2m, and Lazio's limit was pounds 3m. Alex Ferguson held out to win the race, and at pounds 3.6m for a 24- year-old whose game seems ideally suited to English midfield play, Manchester United's manager must feel he has a bargain when he considers the pounds 7m cost of Fabrizio Ravanelli's transfer from Turin to Teesside.

Confirmation of Poborsky's shift came after one of the Czech Republic's top coaches urged the country to exploit its surprise football status as Euro 96 finalists. But Frantisek Cipro always suspected he would be fighting a lost cause. It would have been better for him if Vladimir Smicer had not scored the late goal against Russia which took the Czechs to the quarter-finals. Cipro has established Slavia as the Czech Republic's leading club, guiding them to the title and to the Uefa Cup semi-finals last season. But the national team's success in England has increased the likelihood of the stars he has nurtured seeking fortunes on foreign fields. Apart from Poborsky, Cipro has lost Smicer to Lens and the defender Jan Suchoparek to another French club, Strasbourg.

Cipro, like Ferguson, has a European Cup campaign to offer his players, but Czech clubs are not in the same financial league as the Monchengladbachs, let alone the Milans, the Manchester Uniteds or - it now must be said - the Middlesbroughs. Slavia have been struggling to meet the cost of reconstructing their Dr Vacka Stadium on attendances of 5,000, while their Prague rivals Sparta hit such hard times last season their players were not paid on a regular basis.

The Czech goalkeeper Petr Kouba is leaving Sparta for Deportivo La Coruna in Spain, and midfielder Pavel Nedved is expected to join the burgeoning Bundesliga brigade. Pavel Kuka, one of the five Czech squad members already playing in Germany, left relegated Kaiserslautern midweek, but there was no homecoming for the striker who impressed in last Sunday's final. He is now on Borussia Monchengladbach's books.

Miroslav Kadlec, the Czech captain, would like to move from Kaiserslautern. Rangers have shown an interest but, even if he does not cash in on Euro 96, the 32-year-old sweeper will not be going home. He has made it known he would rather play in the Bundesliga's second division than return home.

Who's gone where since Euro 96

Karel Poborsky (Czech Republic) Slavia Prague to Manchester United*

Vladimir Smicer (Czech Republic) Slavia Prague to Racing Lens

Jan Suchoparek (Czech Republic) Slavia Prague to Strasbourg

Petr Kouba (Czech Republic) Sparta Prague to Deportivo La Coruna*

Pavel Kuka (Czech Republic) Kaiserslautern to Borussia Monchengladbach

Fabrizio Ravanelli (Italy) Juventus to Middlesbrough

Roberto di Matteo (Italy) Lazio to Chelsea

Vitor Baia (Portugal) Porto to Barcelona

Hristo Stoichkov (Bulgaria) Parma to Barcelona*

Yordan Lechkov (Bulgaria) Hamburg to Marseille

Reynald Pedros (France) Nantes to Marseille

Corentin Martins (France) Auxerre to Deportivo La Coruna

Franck Leboeuf (France) Strasbourg to Chelsea

Lillian Thuram (France) Monaco to Parma

Zinedine Zidane (France) Bordeaux to Juventus*

Aljosa Asanovic (Croatia) Hadjuk Split to Derby County

Nikola Jerkan (Croatia) Real Oviedo to Nottingham Forest*

Florin Raducioiu (Romania) Espanol to West Ham * pending completion

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