Patrik Berger was a made man even before he stepped off the plane at Liverpool John Lennon Airport. The Czech was a teen star in his homeland and had featured prominently in the side that reached the Euro '96 final.
The youngster's star rose and he left Sparta Prague for rivals Slavia. Sparta continued to dominate the League but Berger's mercurial talents were being monitored closely, and in 1995 he joined Ottmar Hitzfeld's Borussia Dortmund.
The veteran head coach designated his new charge with a less fancied holding midfield role and, despite his unhappiness, Berger finished his only season in Germany with the Bundesliga and Super Cup, scoring four goals in 25 appearances.
Playing alongside Pavel Nedved and Karol Poborsky it was Berger's attacking instincts that came to the fore at Euro '96 and with Premier League teams scouting for top European talent Roy Evans quickly stepped in. Southport was the next port of call and the dashing Berger was whisked off to Anfield, joining the illustrious Patrick Vieira, Robert Di Matteo, Gianluca Vialli and Fabrizio Ravenelli in England.
Flowing hair and the Alice band added a touch of glamour and rock and roll. Opposition fans didn’t quite see it that way and many away fans gleefully taunted the fashion sense of the Czech star.
Despite the glitz and glamour, here was a gifted footballer with a lethal left peg, who barring injury, would have won far more than 44 international caps.
Berger had a blistering start to his Liverpool career with his second appearance resulting in two goals against Leicester City. Foxes Goalkeeper Kasey Keller raved: "I’ve never seen a ball move so fast in my life. It’s a good job I didn’t get in the way of either shot or I’d have been back in the net with it." His first start led to another brace against Chelsea and the player of the month award.
Roy Evans pushed the Czech star further upfield to compensate for the lack of goals from the Stan Collymore and Robbie Fowler partnership. Berger finished the campaign with nine goals.
The highlight of the 1997/98 season was a hattrick against Chelsea. Controversy followed in 1998 after he incurred the wrath of Evans for refusing to accept a place on subs bench. The feeling was mutual and Berger likened Liverpool to "a Third or Second Division club - not like the Liverpool I expected."
It seemed that Berger's career was on a downward slope but, with AS Roma showing interest, Gerard Houllier came to the rescue. The Frenchman deployed Berger behind the front two and the central positioning led to immediate dividends with four goals in the next five games. Iconic strikes against Leeds United, Tottenham, Manchester United and Wimbledon have made Berger a firm favourite amongst Liverpool fans.
After a disappointing Euro 2000 Berger played a role in Liverpool's treble trophy assault in 2001/01, with the undoubted highlights being the pass that set up Michael Owen's FA Cup Final winner against Arsenal at Cardiff's Millenium Stadium and the magical 5-4 Uefa Cup final victory over Alaves.
Injuries took their toll and from 2003 onwards Berger transferred to Portsmouth, Aston Villa, Stoke City before returning home with Slavia Prague and Prague sixth Division outfit Dolni Chabry. At Villa his stint was cut bluntly short after 29 games after it emerged that he had encouraged skipper Gareth Barry to join Liverpool.
An quote from an interview with the Sunday Times in 2004 cements Berger's hero status: "You know, the greatest day in my football life was the day I signed for Liverpool. I couldn’t believe it.
"When I was young in Czechoslovakia, we didn’t see much European football, but my father’s friend went to England and he watched Liverpool. When he came back, he gave me the programme, the ticket and a scarf. I still have them all.
"When I moved to Southport to live, my neighbour was Kenny Dalglish. Alan Hansen lived around the corner. I met them, they were normal guys, but they were my heroes. To me, it’s the best club in the world and when I am finished playing and I’m telling my children about it I will be proud to say that for seven years I was a Liverpool player."
A dodgy knee forced the boots to be hung up in May 2008. Sparta coach Jozef Chovanec said: "Patrik told me yesterday, 'It's over. My knee doesn't support the burden any more'. We have to deal with it. Thank you, Patrik, for everything you have done for Sparta and the entire Czech football."
"Paddy" was simply a class act. Injury prevented him from greater achievements at Liverpool but the silky runs, playmaking skills, the flowing locks and the blistering left foot piledrivers reserve this outstanding footballer a special place in the hearts of all Reds.
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