Returning to your old club after a spell abroad might seem a bit like a climb down in career terms, but Martin Fillo insisted that was not the case when he rejoined FC Viktoria Plzeň this winter.
The international midfielder left the shock Czech league leaders for Norwegian side Viking FK midway through the 2007/08 campaign, but after returning to his home-town club said: "It's not a step down to be back here. Viktoria are completely different from three years ago, when they were a mid-table side."
True enough. Viktoria reached new heights in 2009/10, combining a best-ever fifth-placed league finish with winning their second Czech Cup, beating FK Jablonec 2-1 in the final. However, they may yet trump even that high-water mark; with the campaign to restart in late February, they top the Czech table, four points clear of AC Sparta Praha.
With coach Pavel Vrba, a Slovakian title winner with MŠK Žilina in 2006/07, masterminding an attack-minded approach, this season has brought crowds as high as 7,500 to the Štruncovy sady Stadium. The western Bohemia side struck 43 goals in 17 league games in the autumn, outscoring perennial title favourites Sparta by 14.
Getting the better of Sparta over the course of the season would mean a lot for three Viktoria stars. Jan Rezek and Daniel Kolář failed to make the grade at the Prague club but scored 19 goals between them in the autumn, while 35-year-old captain and midfield general Pavel Horváth is a Sparta star of old.
The winter transfer window has brought a little anxiety, with central defensive partners Tomáš Rada and Jakub Navrátil heading off for Turkish side Sivasspor. Aleš Neuwirth from FC Baník Ostrava will fill one of those gaps, though, and 25-year-old Petr Trapp – back home after a two-year spell at SK Slavia Praha – may take the other.
While Trapp is not a Plzen native, Fillo is, and he is determined to be on hand to help lead the club to their first Czech championship. "I was born here and I am happy to be here to fight for the title," he explained. "I hope to be more to the fore than I was [at Viking] and maybe get back in the national squad."
Vrba, meanwhile, is still looking to strengthen as he prepares for the big push. "All the players know they will have an extraordinary spring," said the 47-year-old, whose side returned to Europe for the first time in 39 years this season, but played their lone home game in Prague.
The local council are planning a €12m revamp of the Štruncovy sady Stadium with a view to more big European nights – and maybe title celebrations – ahead. Vrba remains cagey about his own ambitions, though. "I hope we will play in Europe next autumn and that it will be at our own stadium, not in exile," he said.
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