Rudi Skacel: Gary Locke was the reason I came to Raith Rovers

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It’s not every day you get to speak to a Scottish football legend so when the chance to meet with former Heart of Midlothian and Dundee United star Rudi Skacel came up we made a beeline for the popular Czech midfielder. 

The 37-year-old was more than accommodating when we caught up with him in Edinburgh and had plenty to say about his current club, Raith Rovers, as well reflections on his previous exploits throughout Europe.

Speaking exclusively to Ladbrokes News, here’s what happened when we met Rudi…

Ladbrokes News: You’d been away from Scotland for three years prior to your move. How are you finding playing at Raith?

Rudi: It’s different. I’ve never played at Championship level before. From what I have seen so far it’s a good standard and the players are very fast and athletic. It’s early days but I am enjoying it so far.

LN: What attracted you to Raith Rovers?

Rudi: The manager Gary Locke. He tried to sign me when he was Hearts manager and then when he was at Kilmarnock. I always kept in touch with him and wanted to help him out. It’s an exciting project at Raith and this could be my last season as a player.

I know Gary so well and he knows me. It will be a big challenge working with the young kids at Raith, I will enjoy myself and hopefully we will have a good season.

LN: What’s Gary like as a manager, and what style of football is he trying to get you to play?

Rudi: We have a good bunch of guys and good coaching staff. It’s important to have a happy dressing room and a good connection between the players and coaching staff. There is a good atmosphere at the club and hopefully this will give us a good lift throughout the season. It’s not always about winning and losing, but sticking together as a team and Gary helps with that.

LN: You have started the season pretty well with 10 points from six games.

Rudi: It’s important we got off to such a good start. We’ve dropped a couple of points recently but it’s still a good start. We are a young team and we can build on this. Hopefully we can finish in the top-three.

LN: You came off the bench at Tannadice in the 2-2 draw with Dundee United. How did it feel going back there after your spell with them?

Rudi: I was only there for three months, so for me it was just another game that I wanted to win and score in. It was a good match as we came back from 2-0 down to 2-2 but there was no special feeling.

LN: You play Dumbarton at the weekend, are you looking forward to it and are you looking to break your losing run?

Rudi: Definitely, for us it’s a massive game. Every game in this league is important but we have lost the last two matches and it’s a home game and it’s important that we win again. It’s a home match and a massive opportunity for us.

LN: You were obviously part of a big rivalry with Hibs from your Hearts days. Are you looking forward to the fixtures against them this season?

Rudi: Yes, definitely they will be special games for me and the manager. As I said, every match is important and right now I am just looking at the next game.

LN: You’ve played in France, Germany, England and Scotland as well as many other countries. Where did you enjoy playing most?

Rudi: It’s a tricky question! I have played in some lovely cities. It depends what quality you are looking for. In terms of football I scored so many goals in my time here so that was probably the most successful.

I was lucky. My time at Marseille was like being part of a football university. It was the biggest club I have played for, one of the huge names in French football. The lifestyle there was amazing and I had some magnificent teammates like Didier Drogba and Fabian Barthez, it was an amazing start to my career.

Also my time in Greece with Panathinaikos. It was Champions League football there and playing for one of the two huge teams, and the rivalry with Olympiakos, that was incredible. It felt like a holiday there as it was such a nice lifestyle. The football was great and we were fighting for the title down to the last minute which was exciting.

Of course, my time at Hearts will always be special. There was a great dressing room and we had big successes, I had three great seasons there.

I had a great time with Hertha Berlin. It’s an amazing city and I had a great six months with them.

I’ve been luck to have so many great memories. I’ve seen many cultures and places. It’s difficult to pinpoint one team but my time with Hearts was my most successful.

LN: You were part of the winning Czech U21 side that claimed the 2002 U21 European Championship title. What are your memories of that tournament?

Rudi: It was an amazing start to our young careers and a massive tournament for our country. We had fantastic success and a great spirit in the dressing room. If you look at the team sheet there were so many big players playing for this team.

It was an amazing experience and a big lift for my career, I got my move to Marseille after this tournament. This was one of the best moments in my career and the team still stay in touch now.

LN: One of your teammates at the tournament was Petr Cech. He’s gone on to have a wonderful career with Chelsea and Arsenal, what are your memories of playing with him?

Rudi: It wasn’t just Cech. If you look at the team from then they have all gone on to have great careers and play for the biggest clubs like Milos Baros and Zdeněk Grygera. Cech obviously has had a huge career and he is an inspiration for all of us in the Czech Republic.

LN: Your country qualified for Euro 2016 finals but unfortunately didn’t make it out of their group, what did you make of their performance?

Rudi: They did their best but I was a little disappointed they didn’t get through the group. I hope it brings some changes to our football as the last couple of seasons we have been struggling. We need to invest more money into youth football and coaching so in ten years time we can develop another golden generation of Czech football.

We no longer have big players playing for the top teams and I cannot see us getting success as it stands.

LN: You have a tough World Cup qualifying draw, with Germany in your group. How will you get on?

Rudi: We will see. Germany will win the group and we will be fighting for second place. Hopefully we get second and if we are lucky we’ll get through the play-offs and make the World Cup.

It’s important to make these big tournaments to inspire the youth of the country to follow their heroes at a big tournament. Will also mean a lot of money which can be spent on grass roots football in the country.

LN: Scotland are in the same group as England. Can they beat the Three Lions?

Rudi: You never know! England have their troubles too and are going through changes after Euro 2016. It’s one match so as long as Scotland fight they’ll have a chance.

LN: What was it like playing for Southampton? They are in a much different position from when you were there.

Rudi: They are doing really well and they deserve it as they have a brilliant support with a fantastic stadium. For me, my spell there was the most disappointing time in my career. We had a great team but we lost in the semi-finals of the play-offs and we didn’t get the promotion we deserved.

I am happy they are doing so well now, it shows that a ‘smaller’ club can make it. They are so good with they young kids and have a brilliant youth academy. They have produced so may great players.

LN: The Saints got their first win in the Europa League recently. Do you think they’ll do well in Europe?

Rudi: I was very happy they got the win as it was against Sparta Prague! Hopefully they will do well, it is a big boost winning the first game of the group stage. Hopefully they can make it to the knock-out stage and I will support them, definitely.

All Odds and Markets are correct as of the date of publishing

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Paul Fulton

Paul is a sporting all-rounder with a particular penchant for tennis, football and golf. He has contributed to a number of publications, including the Edinburgh Evening News. Is most at home with a scotch pie and bovril in hand watching his beloved Hibs.