News Live Scores
NXGN

Daniel Samek: Czech wonderkid looking to emulate Frenkie de Jong

12:00 IST 21/01/2022
Daniel Samek NXGN GFX
The 17-year-old midfielder already has seven direct goal contributions during his first season at senior level for the Prague outfit

Divided by the Vltava River that runs through the centre of the city, the rivalry between Sparta and Slavia Prague is one of the fiercest in European football.

The two most successful clubs in Czech history are consistently battling it out at the top of the table, but it is not just trophies that they measure their success by.

The sworn enemies from either side of the Charles Bridge also compete to attract the best young footballers from around the country and develop them within their own academies, with great pride taken when a homegrown player emerges as a genuine first-team star.

Over the past couple of years, Sparta have been able to claim the bragging rights in that regard.

Forward Adam Hlozek has been linked with a number of Europe's elite clubs having finished as the Fortuna Liga's top scorer in 2020-21 before representing his country at Euro 2020 at the age of 18.

Attacking midfielder Adam Karabec is expected to follow Hlozek into the national side, too, after recently being named the Player of the Year among the Czech Republic's age-group sides.

However, the breakout star of the 2021-22 campaign has arguably appeared at Slavia, where midfielder Daniel Samek is playing a key role for Jindrich Trpisovsky's table-toppers.

The 17-year-old has contributed three goals and four assists in 21 games so far this season despite playing predominantly as a defensive midfielder, and there is now great hope at the Sinobo Stadium that Samek will grow into a player capable of making the leap to one of Europe's 'Big Five' leagues in the years to come.

Samek has come a long way from growing up in the village of Chaloupky, around 60 kilometres away from the nation's capital.

The majority of his footballing education came at Hradec Kralove, where he spent a decade learning his craft after joining the club at the age of four.

It was there where Slavia first spotted him in 2018, and though they moved quickly to bring him to Prague, early evidence did not point to him becoming a first-team regular before his 18th birthday.

Check out football's best wonderkids with NXGN:

"It was the scout Milan Simunek and the head coach of the youth teams, Miroslav Beranek, who noticed Samek," Petr Hurych, the head of Slavia's academy, tells GOAL. "What struck them was the intelligence in his reading of the game at just 14 years old.

"When we select players from outside Prague, we try to imagine their path towards the first team, but honestly, no, we didn't think that his arrival into the senior side would be so fast.

"When he arrived, Daniel did not stand out among his peers and was not considered a rising star. But his determination and passion for the game led him, step by step, to become one of the best players of his age-group."

That determination to succeed was born out of his time spent learning under 'old school' coach Ladislav Broz at Hradec Kralove, who spent a period routinely leaving Samek out of his team, which in turn almost forced the youngster to leave the game just a year before Slavia picked him up.

"I didn't let him play because he didn't play for the team and didn't respect my instructions," Broz explained to iDNES. "I often put him on the bench and he was angry with me."

That certainly flicked a switch in Samek's head and, around 12 months later, he made the leap and left his boyhood club behind in a bid to make it at one of the country's most competitive youth football centres.

"I didn't know what to expect," Samek explains to GOAL. "At Hradec Kralove, I always played in the team with boys one year older than me, but I didn't know if I would make it at Slavia.

"I met the club a couple of times here in Prague, visited the facilities and met the coaches. I wanted to come here, I was just a little scared. My dream has always been to play for Slavia.

"After passing the initial trial period, there was nothing that could stop me. Certainly, I don't regret the choice to move here."

Nothing has stopped Samek, who many at Slavia believe is the player who can fill the hole that was left by Tomas Soucek following his departure for West Ham in January 2020.

Unlike many of his peers, Samek skipped both a loan spell at Slavia's satellite club, Vlasim, in the second division, and time playing for Slavia's B-team.

He was instead promoted directly to the first team from the youth ranks, after impressing Trpisovsky when he trained with the senior side in the wake of the coronavirus-enforced shutdown of football in 2020.

He eventually made his professional debut in March 2021, becoming the youngest player in Slavia history when he came off the bench against lower-league outfit Slavia Karlovy Vary in the Czech Cup just two weeks after his 17th birthday.

He backed that up by making his league debut against Jablonec two months later, but it was not until the opening weeks of the 2021-22 campaign that he truly emerged into the collective consciousness of Czech football fans.

Samek scored three goals in his first seven games of the season, including his first professional strike against Banik Ostrava, which was greeted by a rather strange celebration from his team-mates inside the dressing room.

"I will remember this day for my whole life. I never imagined that such a thing could happen. It was the best day of my life," Samek recalls.

"I walked into the dressing room and there were six team-mates around me, so I couldn't escape. Then they threw eggs and flour at me. I had them everywhere!"

Samek's rise has certainly impressed everyone who has been able to watch him in action.

"He is the perfect example of a player's growth," Trpisovsky said after handing Samek his league debut in May.

"He trained with us for the first time during the stop for Covid. If I think back to that moment and see him again today, he is a completely different player.

"He has great potential and has something that the other young players in the squad do not have.

"I have tried other players before him in my long experience and it hasn't always gone well. There will be obstacles in Daniel's path, but he's a very smart guy."

Samek's intelligence and leadership qualities are noted by all those who have worked with the midfielder, who has routinely captained his country at under-age level.

It is his quality on the ball, however, that stands out the most, and though he is yet to nail down a set role in the Slavia team, he has the ability to become any kind of midfield player he wants.

"He is a right-footed player with great quality," former Italy defender Stefano Torrisi, who now runs a scouting agency in Prague, tells GOAL.

"He has a great sense of verticalisation, he arrives in the penalty area to shoot and he is also learning about the defensive phase.

"We are talking about a 2004-born player who is already physically well built. He can follow in Soucek's path, and though he is less dynamic, he has more quality. I am not surprised that he has already become an important player for Slavia.

"He has incredible potential to be able to adapt to the big European leagues. Those who have watched him consider him a modern midfielder who can play anywhere in the central 80 metres of the pitch because he knows how to attack, defend and dribble."

Samek himself is still figuring out the role he sees himself playing in the future, saying: "It depends on the opponent. If he has more defensive characteristics, then I can push myself forward and create some danger. But my main task remains to defend.

"The coaches know that I have the qualities to play with the ball and I am capable of creating dangerous attacks. It is important to me that they encourage me to do this.

"If I make a mistake, they must support me rather than get angry with me. I think it is much better to try and do something wrong than do nothing."

Havlicek adds, "He likes watching Barcelona's Frenkie De Jong and I think he resembles him in style of play.

"One of Daniel's greatest skills is his reading of offensive and defensive actions. He also has good passing technique and is good at dribbling, as well as being physically strong. These qualities make him a complete midfielder.

"Maybe he needs to improve in his speed of execution, but mentally he is very strong, too."

Slavia, then, look to have hit back in Prague's footballing battle to unearth the best young players.

Whomever wins, though, the Czech national side will be all the better for having Samek in it one day.

For more on the world's best young ballers, follow NXGN on Instagram and TikTok.