By Mark Smith | Czech Republic Expert
Slovan Liberec and Manchester City are rarely mentioned in the same breath, but they have more in common than you may think. Last weekend, both sides secured league titles on a dramatic final day filled with tension, anxiety and drama.
In fact, Liberec was known as “The Manchester of Bohemia” due to their thriving textile industry. But whilst the local textile trade can no longer be relied upon, there is one player who can be.
Theo Gebre Selassie epitomises the energy and attacking prowess that Liberec have demonstrated over the course of the season. They finished the campaign with 68 goals in 30 games, the best attack in the league.
Jiri Stajner, Michal Breznaník and Michael Rabusic all hit double figures for the newly-crowned champions; even Theo notched five goals from the right-back position, illustrating the team ethic and attacking principles that coach Jaroslav Silhavy has instilled into his players.
Gebre Selassie is of Ethiopian descent but was born and raised in the Czech Republic. In June last year he became the first black player to represent the Czech national team and sees it as an honour and privilege to play for his country.
“It was great to be called up. I was surprised, but I enjoyed the game as I had nothing to lose,” said Theo on his international debut against Peru last year, which ended in a goalless draw.
|Theodor Gebre Selassie | Slovan Liberec, Right back, 25
The 25 year-old right-back has been the only ever-present outfield player for Liberec this season and is integral to the ethos of the club. Theo spends the majority of the time in the opponent's half, providing incisive overlapping runs and supporting attacks at every opportunity.
His athleticism and agility enables him to patrol the right hand side of the pitch for 90 minutes, if not more - sometimes it appears he does so without breaking a sweat.
There were tears of joy from Theo at the final whistle on Saturday. A release of emotion after a gruelling season that saw Liberec repel the challenge of Sparta Prague and defending champions Viktoria Plzen.
It seemed that Plzen had timed their title challenge to perfection, like the patiently ridden horse ready to burst through in the closing stages, but it was Liberec who held on to seal their third Gambrinus Liga title.
Inevitably, Theo’s part in the success has not gone unnoticed. There were rumours during the winter that he would seal a lucrative move to Russia but a transfer never materialised. However, the Liberec defender has ambitions to test himself against the best players in Europe.
The show of emotion on Saturday might resonate from the fact that it was his farewell to the club that has nurtured and encouraged him over the last four seasons. If it was his final match for Liberec, it was certainly a fitting way to close this chapter of his career.
Yesterday, Gebre Selassie was named in the Czech Republic's provisional 24-man squad for Euro 2012 (one of the four goalkeepers will drop out when the final squad is announced). While the likes of Petr Cech, Tomas Rosicky and Milan Baros are already established stars, Gebre Selassie could quite easily make himself a household name in Poland and Ukraine too.