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Berger, Patrik

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PATRIK BERGER 1996-2003

 

by Dave Usher

 

Date of Birth - 10/11/73

Nationality - Czech

Position - Midfield

Games - 196

Goals - 35

Club Hons (Lpool) - FA Cup 2000/01, UEFA Cup 2000/01, League Cup 2000/01

Intnl Hons - 42 Czech Republic

Other Clubs - Sparta Prague (twice), Slavia Prague, Borussia Dortmund, Portsmouth, Aston Villa, Stoke (loan)

 

Dashing Czech Berger exploded onto the scene at Anfield in a flurry of goals after joining from Borussia Dortmund following a hugely successful Euro 96, in which he scored in the final as his country narrowly lost out to Germany. An injury delayed his Liverpool debut, but such was the anticipation surrounding his first Liverpool appearance that over 12,000 turned out to watch him play for the reserves against Nottingham Forest at Anfield.

 

He scored of course, with a trademark left foot piledriver from the edge of the box, but that was nothing compared to what he delivered at Filbert Street a few weeks later.

 

Coming on as a half time substitute, Paddy single handedly won the game with two goals of such stunning power that Foxes keeper Kasey keller said they were the hardest shots he'd ever faced. Two more followed in his first full start, against Chelsea at Anfield, before another sublime finish against My-Pa in the Cup Winners Cup capped off a remarkable couple of weeks and earned him a place in the heart of every Kopite.

 

It appeared that the reds had a very special talent on their hands, but then things started to go wrong, as Roy Evans didn't seem to know how to best utilise the skills of the explosive Czech. Berger was in and out of the side, usually vying with Stan Collymore for a place in the side alongside Robbie Fowler.

 

When the reds switched back to a 4-4-2 system, it seemed logical that Berger would find a home on the left side of midfield. However, Roy had other ideas, continually shunning the talented Czech in favour of the workmanlike, right footed, and totally out of his depth Oyvind Leonhardsen.

 

The more the fans chanted for Paddy, the more stubborn Roy's resolve to ignore him became, and at the end of the 1997/98 season, it appeared that Paddy's days at Anfield were numbered. Benfica and Roma both showed a strong interest in signing him, and it was only the late intervention of Peter Robinson that kept him at Anfield. Robinson urged Paddy to give it another go, telling him that the managerial situation at the club was about to change and the new man wanted him to stay.

 

That man of course was Gerard Houllier, who was most definitely a Berger fan. Paddy began the 98/99 season on the left of a four man midfield, but his display on the opening day of the season was patchy, and rumour has it that Roy Evans wanted to leave him out of the following game against Newcastle (in favour of Jason McAteer), but Houllier was having none of it.

 

The Frenchman got his way, Paddy scored at St James' Park (in a game where Michael Owen bagged a hat-trick) and never looked back. Evans went a couple of months later, and for the next couple of years Berger was one of the first names on the teamsheet. He was usually good for about ten goals a season, and at least as many assists.

 

He scored some unbelievable goals down the years, the best of which was probably his 35 yard free-kick at Old Trafford in the 1999-2000 season. He also added a defensive awareness to his undoubted attacking talent, and his work rate was usually second to none.

 

Sadly, injuries were to blight his later years at the club, and he missed much of the 2001 treble winning season with a knee injury. The next two seasons followed a similar pattern, as each time he looked to have regained full fitness he was struck down with knee trouble, meaning the popular Czech made more appearances in Dr Richard Steadman's surgery in Colarado than he did for the reds first team.

 

He showed an exemplary attitude in the reserves however, setting a good example to the younger players in the squad and continuing to burst the net with those trademark left foot thunderbolts.

 

He departed Anfield under the Bosman ruling at the end of the 2002/03 season to join Portsmouth, and after two seasons on the South Coast earned a move to Aston Villa, where he spent three more years before leaving to return to his homeland with Sparta Prague.

 

He left Villa Park under a cloud, having been released from his contract early after incurring the wrath of boss Martin O'Neill. His crime? Publicly telling Vila captain Gareth Barry that he should join Liverpool. What a guy!

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