Patrik Berger: A Red through and through

"Patrik Berger will always be remembered for his explosive long-range shooting and the ... pass for Michael Owen's winner in the 2001 FA Cup final against Arsenal."

Football News: Patrik Berger

By Gabriel Tan

That is the opening description on Patrik Berger's "Past Players" profile on Liverpool's official website, and truthfully, quite a fitting one.

Mention Berger to any Liverpool fan and almost all will immediately mention thunderous left-footed strikes that had Premier League goalkeepers gasping in despair. The dashing Czech will always be remembered for his shooting prowess which saw him net over 80 goals in his professional career, most of them stunning efforts.

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While nowhere near the legendary status afforded to modern Kop heroes like John Barnes, Robbie Fowler and Steve McManaman, Berger managed to carve out a place for himself amongst the Anfield faithful - a testament to how successful his seven-season spell with the Reds was.

But one thing perhaps more impressive than the success he enjoyed on Merseyside is the fact that he actually managed to establish himself at the club in the first place, considering he was one of many players who earned a high-profile move based on a stunning Euro 96 campaign.

There has long been a theory that Europe's top sides are regularly blinded by players who perform well at major international tournaments; the argument being that if a player can handle the spotlight at a World Cup or European Championship, then they are likely to have the mentality to manage the pressure in the big leagues.

Dazzled by a player's successful summer campaign, clubs soon forked out big amounts for otherwise unproven players, and for every success story, there was also a major flop.

Player
From To
Appearances for club
Gianfranco Zola
Parma Chelsea 229
Lillian Thuram
Monaco
Parma 163
Zinedine Zidane
Bordeaux Juventus 151
Patrik Berger
Borussia Dortmund
Liverpool 149
Frank Leboeuf
Strasbourg Chelsea 144
Top five Euro 96 success stories

 

Chelsea hit the jackpot signing Gianfranco Zola from Parma. The diminutive Italian went on to make 229 league appearances at Stamford Bridge, and is now regarded as one of the club's all-time greats.

On the other end of the spectrum, Edgar Davids moved to AC Milan from Ajax that summer, made all of 19 appearances that campaign, and had left to join Juventus twelve months later.

There will always be an element of risk involved when clubs buy a player based on a month's worth of highlights. Liverpool flipped the coin when paid £3.25million for Berger - he went on to make 149 league appearances for the club. Another of their rumoured Euro 96 targets Karel Poborsky ended up at Manchester United. He never truly settled at Old Trafford, played 32 times for the club, and left after two seasons.

 

Player
From To
Appearances for club
Jordi Cruyff Barcelona Man United 34
Karel Poborsky Slavia Prague Man United 32
Laurent Blanc Auxerre Barcelona 28
Christophe Dugarry Bordeaux AC Milan 27
Edgar Davids Ajax AC Milan 15
Five major Euro 96 flops

 

And despite turning out to be quite a success story, Berger's time at Anfield was not devoid of trying times.

His Liverpool career started with a bang, after he bagged two goals in his second game against Leicester, before following up with another brace in a 5-1 win over Chelsea. However, injuries limited his involvement that season and he ended up with only nine goals.

Things would get worse in the next campaign.

Berger's sole highlight in his second year was a hat-trick against Chelsea in a 4-2 victory, but that proved to be his only goals in the league that year as he was limited to just 27 appearances in all competitions.

In the summer of 1998, Berger reportedly returned to Prague to think about his future, especially in the wake of rumoured interest from Serie A side Roma. All signs pointed towards the Anfield exit door.

That all changed with the appointment of Gerard Houllier that summer, first as co-manager alongside Roy Evans and then as the sole man in charge. The French tactician deployed Berger just behind his front two, and Houllier's new playmaker repaid the faith by making 78 appearances over the course of the next two seasons, scoring 18 goals and laying on countless more.

However, by the turn of the millennium, Berger's advancing years and injury problems meant his role at the club gradually waned. He still managed 51 appearances from 2000 to 2002, but the 2002/03 season saw him play just four matches.

Berger's time at Anfield eventually ended in the summer of 2003, after the club decided to release him. Newly-promoted Portsmouth signed the Czech up for the 2003/04 campaign, and after two seasons at Fratton Park, Berger had further stints with Aston Villa and Stoke, before winding his career down back in his homeland with Sparta Prague.

"You know, the greatest day in my football life was the day I signed for Liverpool. I couldn't believe it.

"When I was young in Czechoslovakia, we didn't see much European football, but my father's friend went to England and he watched Liverpool. When he came back, he gave me the programme, the ticket and a scarf. I still have them all."

The Sunday Times, February 8, 2004

And while his 20-year career included spells at seven different clubs, there is no doubt as to which team he holds closest to his heart.

"When I look back on my seven years at Liverpool, it was undoubtedly the peak of my career as a footballer," Berger told the Liverpool Echo earlier this year.

"My time at Anfield was the best I had, both football-wise and life-wise, and I am so happy to have been able to call myself a Liverpool player.

"The fans were always great with me - they gave me great support and encouragement.

Berger's career has been filled with many triumphs: the runner-up finish at Euro 96, a Bundesliga title with Dortmund, as well as being a member of Liverpool's treble-winning team of 2001.

However, take away all the silverware, and it still seems as though Berger would be proud of what he achieved in his career, especially during his time at Anfield.

Back in 2004, when he was still playing for Portsmouth, Berger told the Sunday Times: "To me, it's [Liverpool] the best club in the world and when I am finished playing and I'm telling my children about it, I will be proud to say that for seven years I was a Liverpool player."

One gets the feeling Liverpool fans are equally as proud to call Patrik Berger one of their own.



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