Hyde United to Czech No 1: Jindrich Stanek’s unlikely journey to the Euros

Estimated read time 5 min read

When Everton felt their teenage goalkeeper Jindrich Stanek needed a taste of men’s football to test himself, they searched around the north-west for a club willing to give him an opportunity. Seventh-tier Hyde United offered him the chance to gain experience and he soon learned the harsh realities of that level, making two mistakes to give away goals in the opening 45 minutes of his debut at Blyth Spartans and witnessing a teammate being sent off. Things could only get better.

Stanek made four further appearances for Hyde in 2015-16, winning the final three as he brought a touch of quality to Tameside in a depressing season for a club who went on to be relegated. His brief spell as a 19-year-old at Ewen Fields is a long way from being the Czech Republic’s No 1 at the Euros, where Stanek is poised to start against Cristiano Ronaldo and Portugal on Tuesday night, but it was a significant one.

“He only played a handful of games but he did make a big impact,” says the former Hyde defender Shane Killock. “All the lads at the time were happy to have him in our side; even at a young age he looked like he had all the attributes to do well and have a successful career in the game, which he seems to have done so far.

Jindrich Stanek pictured ahead of Everton’s pre-season friendly at Swindon town in July 2015.View image in fullscreen

“He was both loud and vocal during games with good communication skills. He wouldn’t just shout for the sake of it but would give you clear instructions and not leave you in any doubt about what he wanted from you, which helped to make your mind up for you and make your decision easier. This, as well as his confidence, was something that stood out for me, as it’s something that keepers can lack, particularly at a young age. You can be a great shot-stopper, but if you’re quiet and stay on your line, you can make the team nervous and you won’t have their full trust, but this wasn’t the case with Jindrich.”

One of the goalkeeping coaches then working at Everton, Andy Fairman, was instrumental in arranging the loan, having helped bring Stanek to England from Sparta Prague. Everton were keen on signing goalkeepers from abroad because their first-team goalkeeping coach, Iñaki Bergara, felt their British counterparts were over‑coached and rigid in their movement, whereas Stanek was fluid and agile.

“There were days when he would train with the first team and they would not be able to score past him,” Fairman says. “He was absolutely phenomenal at times. The issue was that he came to a new country and his first game for us [for the under-21s] was an absolute nightmare. He was a young kid flown halfway across the world, very little support network and thrust into a game at Southport. He tried dribbling the ball out, got ­tackled and we lost the game on it.”

Bergara was a great advocate of Stanek, despite the ­underwhelming start, but when he and Roberto Martínez left in 2016, and Ronald Koeman was appointed as Everton’s manager, there was no contract extension available and Stanek left for nothing. He returned home to join Dynamo Ceske Budejovice and spent four seasons with the club, eventually proving himself one of the best in the country, earning a move to Viktoria Plzen and, in January, Slavia Prague.

“He needed more game time to help make better match decisions,” Fairman says of the move to Hyde. “There was always a keeper there and he trained really well. What did not help him were the injuries; he got a lot of niggly injuries that kept him out a lot. In training he was fantastic but it did not always transfer when he played. This is why we wanted to get him out on loan. As a young keeper who is getting very little game time while trying to impress, you end up trying to do too much to impress and make mistakes.”

Stanek had been a Czech age-group international from under-16 level and fittingly made his senior debut in 2021 against Belgium, coached by Martínez and Bergara, who were elated for their former player. “I personally would have kept him at Everton,” Fairman says. “He has gone on to show our recruitment went well because we picked somebody who has gone on to have a successful career.”

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Jindrich StanekView image in fullscreen

Stanek settled into life on Merseyside well; his girlfriend joined him and they got a cat but the month at Hyde was Stanek’s only taste of senior football. The Czech goalkeeping department for the Euros has ticked off plenty of England. Matej Kovar had spells with Swindon and Burton while a Manchester United player and Vitezslav Jaros is with Liverpool and spent a season on loan with Stockport in League Two and time on loan at Notts County.

Stanek has faced Barcelona and Internazionale in the Champions League and the natural talent witnessed in England, meshed with the experience he has gained over a lengthy career, has brought him to the fore. Killock says: “It shows that if you apply yourself and are willing to put the hard yards in, be patient and listen and take advice from others, then you can realise your dreams, which is what he’s doing now.”

Blyth, Whitby, Marine, Barwell and Stourbridge made up the start of Stanek’s journey in front of a few hundred at a time. Tens of thousands will see him in Germany, where he will be hoping for at least five more matches, though Portugal, Georgia and Turkey stand in his way in Group F. Sometimes, there is no substitute for experience, making Stanek’s career tapestry richer than many at the Euros.

Source: theguardian.com

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