After almost 13 years spent travelling Europe – enjoying success in Germany, Italy, Spain and Turkey – former Czech Republic stalwart Tomáš Ujfaluši has returned home.
AC Sparta Praha have handed the 35-year-old a 12-month contract, providing one of Czech football's best-known defenders with the opportunity to end his playing days on home soil.
It is a career that has spanned some of the continent's foremost leagues and prizes. After leaving SK Sigma Olomouc in late 2000, he won the German League Cup during three and a half seasons at Hamburger SV before joining ACF Fiorentina. His defensive steel helped the Viola to the UEFA Cup semi-finals in 2008, though he went one step further when he lifted the 2010 UEFA Europa League trophy in his three-year stay at Club Atlético de Madrid.
"I have been playing football abroad for many years, so I wanted to come back to the Czech Republic," said Ujfaluši, who parted company with Galatasaray AŞ earlier in the summer. "The only option for me was Sparta. They are the most famous, historic club with a strong, young squad."
Despite having claimed his fair share of silverware, Ujfaluši's ambition clearly has not dimmed. He revealed that his aims for the campaign are identical to those of his new employers who, since being champions in 2010, have watched the last three First League titles head to FC Viktoria Plzeň and FC Slovan Liberec.
"My aim is to win the Czech title," he said without hesitation. The 2013/14 season started in July and the cream has arguably risen, with Plzeň and Sparta topping the table. "The matches between us may be a big factor," added Ujfaluši.
The centre-back cum right-back's enthusiam may be undiminished, yet he is aware of his limitations on the field and has no doubts about the part he will play this term: "I will be leaving the right side of the defence to my younger colleagues and will stay in the centre and manage the back line from there," he said.
Indeed, given that he captained each of his previous teams, nobody is in a better position than Ujfaluši to lend steel to this young Sparta side and lead by example. It is a fact not lost on board member Jakub Otava, who said: "We felt it necessary to reinforce our defence as we conceded six goals in our first five competitive games. Tomáš has enormous experience and has had a rich career – it was very tempting."
Sparta's UEFA Europa League campaign was unexpectedly curtailed in the second qualifying round, Sweden's BK Häcken upsetting the odds, whereas Plzeň are just a play-off victory against NK Maribor away from the UEFA Champions League group stage.
The rivals are poised to meet on the domestic stage, with their first encounter scheduled for Sunday in Plzen. Sparta fans will be hoping for an immediate impact from their new acquisition.
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