A raft of new signings and Patrik Berger's first bout of ski training in 15 years have marked AC Sparta Praha's busy mid-winter schedule as coach Jozef Chovanec looks to get his side in shape for the spring.
In his dual role as coach and sporting director with the 12-time Czech champions, Chovanec was less than delighted with the form that left his side fourth in the league at the winter break, a full ten points adrift of champions and local rivals SK Slavia Praha. His response has been to sign three players and send his players running to the hills. With former Czech Republic defender Martin Hašek installed as his new assistant, Chovanec took his players off for cross-country skiing as part of their winter training. Former Liverpool FC star Berger, 35, admitted he had not skied in 15 years while it was a first for Ivorian forward Bony Wilfried.
The new signings, meanwhile, started with 22-year-old Croatian left-back Manuel Pamić, on a six-month loan from FC Salzburg. He was then joined by 24-year-old Roman Hubník, the former Czech Under-21 campaign who left SK Sigma Olomouc for FK Moskva for €3.5m two years ago but failed to settle in Russia. He too is in Prague on loan.
Finally, Chovanec took a chance on 22-year-old German winger Sergio Peter, who has signed a two-and-a-half year contract with the club after failing to make it into the first team at English side Blackburn Rovers FC. "The squad is still not much stronger than it was in autumn. We need one player for each line (defence, midfield and attack) at least," said Chovanec, who will take his side to Hong Kong for a friendly tournament next week.
With Miroslav Slepička, Sparta's top scorer in the autumn with five goals, having moved to NK Dinamo Zagreb and strike partner Libor Došek earmarked for a move to Skoda Xanthi FC, Sparta could be short of striking options come the spring, but Slavia have similar problems, as they bid to replace PFC CSKA Moskva-bound wunderkind Tomáš Necid. Slavia have been quiet in the transfer market so far, but aside from replacing the league's top scorer, coach Karel Jarolím also has the headache of finding a replacement for Slovakian defender Matej Krajčík, who decided to swap the Czech title race for an Italian relegation battle with Reggina Calcio.
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