Rudi Skacel

Rudolf Skacel, or Rudi as he is better known, is a Czech midfielder who was born in Trutnov, Czechoslovakia on 17th July 1979. Rudi began his career with FC Hradec Kralove, and made his first team debut in 1999. Skacel led Hradec to promotion, which won him a move to Czech giants Slavia Prague. He spent four years at Slavia, between 1999 and 2003, playing in over 100 matches. Rudi helped 'Sesivani' win the domestic cup in 2002 after a final win over rivals Sparta Prague. Skacel was part of the Czech Republic squad that lifted the European U21 Championship in 2002. He also represented Slavia in the UEFA Cup in 2002/03.

In August 2003 Skacel joined Ligue 1 giants Marseille for €2,500,000. He played 20 times for L'OM in 2003/04, but fell out of favour after the departure of manager Alain Perrin. That season also saw Rudi score his first ever international goal on 15th November 2003 in a 5-1 drubbing of Canada. Skacel spent 2004/05 on loan at Greek side Panathinaikos, representing the club in the Champions League, where he scored in a group match against Rosenborg.

On 19th July 2005 Skacel joined George Burley's Hearts. The Czech midfielder made a storming start to his career in Scotland, scoring in his first five matches for The Jambos. Skacel was at the heart (no pun intended) of everything that was good about The Edinburgh club's excellent form, which saw them lead the table in the early months before Burley's untimely departure as manager. Skacel opened his account for Hearts on 30th July in the opening day 4-2 win over Kilmarnock at Rugby Park. He also netted in the 4-0 derby win over Hibernian on 7th August, and on 15th October against eventual champions Celtic. Rudi was less prolific in the second half of the campaign, but did score in the Cup Final win over Gretna on 13th May. Skacel was also involved in controversy when Celtic midfielder Neil Lennon accused him of spitting at him in a match at Tynecastle which saw Hearts run out 3-0 winners. Rudi denied Lennon's accusations. He ended the season having scored 17 goals from 40 matches.

On 29th July 2006 Skacel moved to Championship side Southampton for £1.2million, linking up with his former Hearts manger George Burley, who was now in charge of The Saints. Rumours about Skacel's potential arrival at St Marys began way back in March 2006, so when the midfielder finally signed with the club after months of speculation it's fair to say most fans were very pleased. Skacel made his debut for the club on 6th August in a 2-2 draw with Derby. His first season at Southampton was decent, but he failed to hit the heights he had for Hearts the previous campaign. There were some memorable moments from the Czech international still. He performed excellently in the 3-0 win at Leeds on November 18th and in the 4-3 win over Birmingham on 29th November, scoring in both games. Rudi helped Saints to a 6th place finish in his first season with the red and whites, and put in a tremendous display in the 2nd leg of the play-off semi final against Derby, which Southampton lost on penalties.

After Gareth Bale's departure to Tottenham in the summer of 2007, Skacel spent the first half of 2007/08 playing in the unfamiliar position of left back. Surprisingly Rudi often looked more comfortable in defence than he had done in midfield the previous season. He scored his first goal of the season on October 6th in an exciting game against West Brom, which Saints won 3-2. On 31st January, two days after starting in Southampton's 1-0 home defeat to Norwich, Skacel made the surprise loan move to Bundesliga side Hertha BSC until the end of the campaign. Cash strapped Saints offloaded the midfielder in an attempt to lower the wage bill. Skacel was also in favour of the move, as he felt it would increase his chances of making Czech Republic's Euro 2008 squad. After 16 matches and 2 goals for the Berlin club, Skacel was indeed named in Karel Brückner's squad for the European Championships, but failed to get off the bench as Czech Republic went out at the group stages.

Hertha decided against bringing in Skacel permanently, so the Czech man returned to Southampton in the summer of 2008. The South Coast club's financial position had got much worse since Rudi's departure in January however. Southampton froze him out of the team at the start of the 2008/09 season and attempted to find a buyer. When no takers could be found, Skacel returned to the side on 21st October in a 0-0 draw at Sheffield United. He remained a regular for Saints until the end of the season, but his performances were mostly average. His only goal of the campaign came at Burnley on December 13th, in a 3-2 defeat at Turf Moor. In the summer of 2009 he was released from the club when his contract expired.

Skacel spent three months without a club before joining former side Slavia Prague in October 2009. His second spell at the club was short lived. He scored twice in five matches before departing for Greek outfit Larissa in January 2010. Skacel didn't spend much time in Greece either, playing just seven times for Larissa.

On 16th September 2010 Skacel rejoined Hearts on a one year deal. He celebrated his return by scoring against Rangers on 2nd October. In 2010/11 Skacel showed plenty of glimpses of the player that Tynecastle fans had grown to love five years earlier. He scored a hatrick against St Mirren on 23rd October in a 3-0 win. Skacel ended the season having scored a respectable 13. He signed a new contract with the club in the summer of 2011.