Adam Karabec: Czech wonderkid being tipped to emulate Rosicky

14:00 EAT 20/07/2021
Adam Karabec NXGN GFX
The 18-year-old has already established himself in the first team at Sparta Prague having become the third-youngest scorer in Czech top-flight history

Though it may have come as a surprise to some, Czech Republic's run to the quarter-finals of Euro 2020 was not a shock for those who have been tracking the country's footballing development in recent years.

After a fallow period through the 2010s for the former European Championship finalists, a new generation of Czech players is bringing hope of a return to the glory days back to the national team's supporters.

The performances of Tomas Soucek and Vladimir Coufal for West Ham have illustrated that there is a pathway for the country's top talents to thrive in Europe's 'Big Five' leagues, and the performances of a largely homegrown Slavia Prague team in European competition suggest others will follow their former team-mates to western Europe in the not-too-distant future.

Over at Sparta Prague, meanwhile, Adam Hlozek has emerged as one of the most exciting young forwards in Europe, with the 18-year-old having earned a call-up to that Euro 2020 squad after finishing as the Czech Fortuna Liga's top scorer in 2020-21, netting 15 goals in just 19 appearances despite missing four months with a serious foot injury.

Hlozek, though, is not the only teenager at Sparta who many are expecting to become one of the leaders of the Czech national side over the next decade or so.

Adam Karabec only turned 18 at the start of July, but the midfielder has already been turning heads after establishing himself in the first team at the Generali Ceska Pojistovna Arena, with many believing him to be the best midfield talent to emerge in the country since Tomas Rosicky.

Despite his tall-but-slight frame, Karabec's reading of the game and superb passing ability mean he has already become a menace for opposition teams looking to keep him from dictating matches, with Marseille among the clubs said to be taking an interest in him.

Karabec has always been destined to be a footballer, with the Prague-born youngster having joined former Czech champions Bohemians 1905 at the age of three.

Bohemians 1905 - whose greatest player, Antonin Panenka (he of penalty fame), is now the club's honorary president - knew in Karabec that they had a real talent on their hands, and it was no surprise when, at the age of 12, Sparta made their move.

Having initially signed him in a loan deal, Karabec's transfer to Sparta was made permanent when he reached 15 having regularly played above his own age group.

Speaking to Goal, Karabec's coach at Under-17 level, Petr Havlicek, recalls the impact he was making even from an early age.

"I arrived mid-season, and Adam was a year below the rest," he says. "He was smaller than the others and played sporadically.

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"After a couple of games, we played Banik Ostrava, and at half-time we were 2-1 down. I decided to put him on the pitch at half-time and we managed to win 5-2.

"He played an extraordinary game. At that moment, I knew that he would always be a starter going forward."

Making strong first impressions is something that Karabec has been doing throughout his short career.

"The first time I saw him play was on August 29, 2017, in a derby between Bohemians 1905 and Sparta Prague U15s," Daniele Di Napoli, a scout who lives and works in Prague, explains to Goal. "He impressed me - he was the best player in the whole match.

"I decided to come back to see him again a few weeks later, on September 22 against Slovan Liberec. Wearing the captain's armband, he was the brain of the Sparta midfield, and was always looking for the vertical solution.

"On October 7, I got another confirmation of his talent against Hradec Kralove. I wrote on my sheet, 'he has to be signed immediately'. I had no doubt."

Karabec's development continued apace, as, in 2019, he was named the Player of the Tournament at the prestigious CEE Cup - an U19 tournament that sees clubs from around the world travel to Prague to take part - before picking up the Mladsi Dorostenec Award from the Czech Football Association as the best player in the country's academy structure.

From there he was invited by Rosicky, who now works as Sparta's sporting director, to join first-team training in the early part of 2020, before making his senior debut against Sigma Olomouc in February of that year.

Though the coronavirus-enforced shutdown meant that Karabec had to wait three months between his first and second appearances in the first team, it was worth the wait, as in May 2020 he found the net against Karvina at the age of 16 years and 335 days, becoming the third-youngest goalscorer in the history of the Czech top flight (Hlozek is the youngest).

By the end of the 2019-20 campaign he had forced himself into the starting XI, and though he has largely been used off the bench during the most recent campaign - starting just nine games - he still managed three goals and three assists in all competitions.

"I have always been struck by his ability to solve difficult game situations in a natural way," Jiri Vorlicky, Karabec's Czech Republic coach at U14 and U15 level, explains to Goal, "as well as his ease in the final third.

"He knows when and how to play in his team-mates, and always makes the right choice when he has the ball between his feet, choosing whether to pass it to a team-mate or have a shot on goal."

Though naturally left-footed, Karabec's two-footedness also allows him to keep defenders on their toes in and around the box, particularly when he plays in his favoured number 10 position rather than out wide, where he has at times been posted.

"I think he's a typical playmaker with a 10 on his back," says Havlicek. "When you give him a bit of freedom, he knows how to repay you with great plays. Adam has great technique and a fantastic perception of the game.

"He is very confident in his own qualities. On the pitch, he is a bit selfish, but he knows how to work for the team. I think it is the typical mix of a footballer with great flair.

"He plays with incredible calmness, and can offer great creativity to his team's game. He may not be very fast, but he is in thought. And that makes him special and superior to his peers. His secret? Great concentration."

The next step for Karabec, who started two of Czech Republic's three games at the 2021 U21 European Championship, is to establish himself in the starting line-up at Sparta before, in all likelihood, following Hlozek into the senior national side and to one of Europe's biggest clubs.

"Karabec is destined for a career of the highest level," Vorlicky claims. Few would argue with him right now.