Karel Poborsky was the star of Alex Fergusons summer signings at the start of the 1996-97 season. With David Beckham’s star still on the rise, Fergie was looking for a replacement for the popular Andrei Kanchelskis who had left under a cloud the summer before. The abolishment of the foreigner rule for European competitions allowed United to stock up on foreign players so along with Poborsky the likes of Cruyff, Johnsen, Van der Gouw and a certain Ole Gunnar Solskjaer also joined the ranks at Old Trafford.
After an impressive Euro 96, big things were expected from Poborsky, but from the opening day of the season when Beckham lobbed Neil Sullivan, the Wimbledon keeper, from inside his own half, he faced an uphill struggle to establish himself in the first team. As Beckham continued to shine, putting in Man of the Match performances and scoring outstanding goals, Poborsky was became seen as the less glamorous alternative. He performed well when afforded the chance, but his main flaw, rather than anything technical was that he just wasn’t David Beckham.
After a season and a half in and around the first team (32 appearances 5 goals and a league winners medal), he was sold to the Portuguese club Benfica where he excelled, becoming an instant fans favourite. A brief spell with Lazio followed, before he rejoined Sparta Prague, with whom he made his return to Old Trafford in the Champions League, getting a standing ovation after receiving his marching orders for two yellow cards.
A successful international career (where he is currently the highest capped player in Czech Republic history) shows that he never hit the heights he was capable in his time at Old Trafford. Plenty of players come through the door without making much of a mark, but few have a star like David Beckham to contend with. In the grand scheme of United’s great history, the passing through of Karel Poborsky will barely make a scratch, but one has to wonder how differently it could have turned out.
Oh Karel, what could have been (and I haven’t even mentioned the hair once).
He may not be the most popular person around these parts but how would you like to play Fifa with Wayne Rooney?