Vladimir Darida helped steer Hertha Berlin into Europe for the first time in seven years in 2015/16.
Vladimir Darida helped steer Hertha Berlin into Europe for the first time in seven years in 2015/16.

Hertha engine Darida set to click into gear in France

The midfield dynamo who helped propel Hertha Berlin into next season's UEFA Europa League, Vladimir Darida, is now hoping to drive the Czech Republic to glory at UEFA EURO 2016.

"Of course I dream of Europe at times," said the 25-year-old in March. At that point of the 2015/16 campaign, Darida was talking about the capital club's chances of qualifying for the UEFA Champions League after beating fellow European aspirants FC Schalke 04 2-0 at the Olympiastadion, but he is entitled to envision success in France too after an outstanding season for club and country.

A two-time Czech First League champion with first club FC Viktoria Plzen, much of Darida's career had been spent at the other end of the league table since he arrived in Germany with SC Freiburg in the summer of 2013. Freiburg finished ten points above the drop zone in his maiden Bundesliga campaign before being sucked under in 2014/15. For the standout performer in a struggling side, a move to Hertha followed last summer.

Preetz: 'Darida young but experienced'

"Darida is a young but experienced and flexible player," said sporting director Michael Preetz on his arrival. "He will bring a fresh impulse to our team."

How correct Preetz proved to be. Hertha had themselves only avoided the relegation places by virtue of goal difference the previous season, and in losing the attacking threats of Änis Ben-Hatira and Julian Scheiber - to Eintracht Frankfurt and injuries respectively - their path to success looked formidably circuitous.

Darida, though, stepped up to the plate. Hertha spent 20 weeks in the Champions League places last term, with the Czech midfielder playing all but four of their Bundesliga games. All told, he chipped in with seven goals and four assists as and got to the DFB Cup semi-finals - not bad for a self-styled 'number six'.

Darida: 'One step ahead'

"I prefer to play in central midfield, mostly as the 'six' [German footballing lexicon for 'defensive midfield']. I believe I can add a lot there technically as I always try to be one step ahead of my opponents. Anticipating play usually works quite well for me."

Darida may only stand 1.70 metres tall, but his hard running and distribution mean he has a larger-than-life influence on how Pal Dardai's men play. No Hertha player completed more passes in the season just gone, and his average of over 13 kilometres covered per match was a Bundesliga high.

Whilst he typically plays in front of club captain Fabian Lustenberger and Per Ciljan Skjelbred for the Old Lady, Darida gets to operate in his preferred position for the Czech Republic, doing the leg-work for former Borussia Dortmund star and national team captain Tomas Rosicky up ahead. That worked a treat in qualifying. Darida played in every game as the Czechs topped Group A ahead of Iceland and Turkey in a campaign that also saw victories over the Netherlands home and away.

Born a month after Czechoslovakia's run to the quarter-finals of the Italia '90 FIFA World Cup which ended with defeat to Germany, Darida was five when the Czech Republic finished runners-up to the same opponents in their first competition as an independent nation at UEFA EURO '96. Twenty years on, Darida's talents mean that both he and his country can dream once again.

Stuart Telford