FC Viktoria Plzeň have come a long way over the past four years and Marek Bakoš has been there every step of the way. When he arrived from MFK Ružomberok in 2009, the club had not won a major trophy in their 98-year existence; they have managed nearly one a season ever since.
"At the beginning it was very difficult," forward Bakoš recalled. "We didn't even dream about getting where we are now, but we've managed to create a great team, from the management, through the coaches, up to the players. We are moving up, step by step, and today we're enjoying the results of the work we started four years ago."
Pavel Vrba was appointed coach in October 2008 and, with Bakoš in his side, led the team to a 2-1 win against FK Jablonec in the 2009/10 Czech Cup final. They were to trump that achievement in 2011, year of the Bohemian club's centenary, by lifting the First League title and Czech Super Cup and then getting into the UEFA Champions League group stage.
Bakoš helped to announce their arrival among the European elite, in the process earning a place in Plzeň folklore. Their group stage debut against FC BATE Borisov was 45 minutes old when Petr Jiráček turned and provided an instant cross which Bakoš, lunging from close range, touched in to make it 1-0.
"That was one of the best periods in my career, and the goal I scored against BATE Borisov at the Prague stadium has really stayed in my memory," said the 30-year-old Slovak international, who had already struck six times in qualifying before the 1-1 draw with BATE. "Petr Jiráček gave me a perfect pass in front of goal and I put it into the empty net. I remember it very well."
Two years on, Bakoš and company are back at Europe's top table after pipping AC Sparta Praha to the Czech title. They are determined to make an impact. "We are confident, but, on the other hand, modest. We want to play a competitive match against every team we face and to get some points out of it."
City proved too strong in Plzen
They failed to do so on matchday one, soundly beaten 3-0 by Manchester City FC, but Plzeň are gaining a reputation for simply dusting themselves off and trying again – starting, this time, with Wednesday's Group D trip to PFC CSKA Moskva. "When we manage to win the title or qualify for the Europa League or Champions League, it's the culmination of our efforts. We're a small club and our fans can appreciate that," said Bakoš.
"From the point of view of Viktoria it's very important. And when it comes to the Czech [UEFA] coefficient and representing Czech football abroad, we're glad we are doing a good job and that all Czechs can be proud of us."
If there was such cause for pride last season when Plzeň reached the UEFA Europa League round of 16, advancing to the same stage of the UEFA Champions League this term would signify an even bigger step.