Central Europe is not often mentioned as a hotbed of football talent. Perhaps it should be though, because a closer look reveals that this region has a rich talent pool of footballers. In fact, some of the world’s best – past and present – have hailed from Central Europe.
Here are some of the players who exemplify the football prowess in the area….
All fans need to know about the greatness of the prolific Puskás is that he has a FIFA award named after him: the FIFA Puskás Award, which is given to the player who scores the best goal of the year. The Galloping Major (as he was known) was the embodiment of the saying, “Big things come in small packages”, as he scored 514 goals in 530 appearances for Budapest Honvéd and Real Madrid despite standing just 5’8”. That equates to almost a goal per match for Puskás as a professional! He added 84 goals in 85 international appearances for Hungary’s Mighty Magyars, which he led to Olympic gold in 1952 and the finals of the World Cup in 1954.
The Mighty Magyars of the 1950’s were loaded with talent even beyond the great Puskás. Bozsik, for instance was just as important to this legendary squad. HITC hailed him as the greatest defensive midfielder in history, and for good reasons: Bozsik simply had intuition for how to play his position. He was not the quickest; neither was he the most athletic or explosive on the pitch. But his intelligence and skill more than made up for what he lacked in athleticism. His 101 caps established a Hungarian record that wasn’t broken until 2016 (by goalkeeper Gábor Király).
Lewandowski is in his prime currently, and is establishing quite a legacy. He has 202 goals and counting between top-flight stints at Bundesliga clubs Borussia Dortmund and Bayern Munich. He is, in fact, the league’s all-time leading non-German goalscorer. Lewandowski is rumoured to be leaving Germany, though, with Real Madrid and Manchester United reportedly interested in securing his services. Wherever he ends up though, keep an eye on the UK’s betting sites for a clear indication of just how impactful he is. With a focus on gaming and betting alike, these sites always reflect the latest odds in European football – and Lewandowski is so good these days, whichever club he lands on is going to tick up visibly in the betting outlook. Only a handful of players currently active can claim to make that kind of impact, but the Polish striker is certainly one of them.
Boniek is the present head of the Polish Football Association, but has quite the football pedigree from his playing days as well. He was the only Polish player included in the FIFA 100, a 2003 list of greatest living footballers in the estimation of Brazilian great Pelé. The versatile Boniek played in three World Cups for Poland (scoring 24 goals in 80 total appearances), and led the team to a third-place finish in 1982 en route to making the Team of the Tournament. He also won a European Cup title with Juventus, for which he formed a prolific attacking trio with Michel Platini and Paolo Rossi.
Another player who’s still active today, Hamšík is perhaps best known internationally for captaining Slovakia’s 2010 World Cup team. He is Slovakia’s most-capped player of all time, with over 100 international caps already punctuated by 24 goals. Hamšík spent the majority of his career playing for the Italian squad Napoli, and is actually the leading goalscorer in the club’s history. Currently, however, he’s playing in China for the Dalian Yifang. Hamšík has received the Slovak Footballer of the Year Award six times so far in his career.
Like Hamšík, Škrtel is still active, currently playing for the well-known Turkish club Fenerbahçe. He is a four-time recipient of the Slovak Footballer of the Year Award, and is the country’s third-most-capped player (103, with 6 goals), just behind Hamšík and Miroslav Karhan. He was also part of Slovakia’s 2010 World Cup team, which he and Hamšík led to the round of 16. The Handlová native spent eight years playing for the English Premier League club (and current reigning Champions League title holder) Liverpool before joining Fenerbahçe in 2016.
Peter Čech may or may not be the greatest goalkeeper of all time, but a list of his achievements makes a case for it. The Plzeň native was simply one of the best between the posts, and his 15 English trophies, Champions League and Europa League titles, and four Premier League Golden Gloves certainly speak to that distinction. Čech was also the first player to keep 200 Premier League clean sheets – an achievement made all the more special by the league’s standing as one of the best in the world (and one that traditionally boasts some serious offensive firepower). Čech is the Czech Republic’s most-capped player with 124 national team appearances, and he is arguably the country’s best player ever, in goal or otherwise.
Pavel Nedvěd was described back in 2000 as the brightest star in the Czech Republic’s then-stellar midfield, which led the national team to an unbeaten qualifying run for the Euro. Adept at creating goalscoring opportunities for both himself and his teammates, the Cheb-born Nedvěd won the Ballon d’Or in 2003 and the Golden Foot in 2004. He was also part of the UEFA Team of the Year in 2003, 2004 and 2005. These accolades underscore just how brilliant Nedvěd was in his prime. He spent the majority of his career in Italy, where he played for Lazio (1996–2001) and Juventus (2001–2009).