The search for a No. 10 / Transfer News

The rundown on the Union’s rumored No. 10: Bořek Dočkal

After 18 months of waiting, news broke Wednesday that a possible No. 10 is on his way to Philadelphia.

Bořek Dočkal, a playmaking 29-year-old Czech Republic international, is reported to be getting on a plane to finalize a move to Philadelphia Union.

Sport Invest, the Czech sports agency that represents Dočkal, released a statement saying the No. 10 flew to the U.S. to undergo medical exams and finalize negotiations.

Sources from overseas indicate it is likely to be a loan. Dočkal’s current club, the Chinese Super League’s Henan Jianye, is reluctant to give up on the $9 million investment they made on the player just last winter, acquiring him from perennial Czech title contenders, Sparta Prague. The Chinese club had to be talked into the idea of a one-year loan and do not want to include an option to buy. They would like to freeze Dočkal’s contract during the loan, keeping the remaining two years in tact.

Dočkal, however, has no interest in returning to China. These factors will need to be ironed out during the final contract negotiations.

So what exactly would the Union be getting in Dočkal?

The attacking midfielder recorded 30 goals and 51 assists in 135 games during his time in Prague, spanning from 2013 to 2017. He also excelled in the Europa League, registering the most assists during the 2016-17 competition before moving to Henan Jianye.

But there is only so much you can learn about a player from the statistics.

A view from the Czech Republic

After the news broke, PSP reached out to three prominent journalists from Czechia who covered Dočkal during his time with Sparta Prague.

  • Karel Häring is the editor-in-chief of Czech magazine Football Club.
  • Jan Kaliba is the magazine’s co-founder and a reporter on Czech soccer.
  • Jan Vacek writes for the newspaper Danek Sport, a branch of the Czech News Center.

All three were gracious enough to offer some insight on the player.

The key qualities

After speaking with all three, one thing is clear.

Dočkal is exactly the type of player for whom the Union have been searching.

“He was definitely one of the best players in Czech league when [he] played for Sparta (and also quite important for national team),” Häring said.

Kaliba added, “He’s kind of a technical midfielder with very good passing, solid mid-range shooting. Right footed,” continuing, “For Sparta he was the key player, the one called a game changer as others relied on him to have the idea and the ability to make the final pass.

Vacek dove in a little deeper stating, “Dočkal is your typical offensive midfielder, No. 10. He is very creative and strong on the ball. He has great vision, a very good final pass and definitely can change the pace of the game.”

“He´s best in [in the center] of a 4-2-3-1 or 4-3-3 lineup. He can also play on the right wing, but can’t exploit his whole potential at this position. When he plays in Sparta Prague, he had freedom from coaches on the pitch. The best way to use Dočkal is just let him play,” added Vacek.

Häring also mentioned Dočkal’s ability to play on the right, but his best position is as a No. 10. When sporting director Earnie Stewart arrived in Philadelphia, he noted that while versatility is nice, it’s more important to have a player that can excel at one position. Dočkal certainly fits that mold.

It’s the Czech’s right foot that adds another dimension to the Union’s attack. Midfielder Haris Medunjanin was able to influence games with superb free kicks — but there were times when his left foot limited what the club could attempt. Dočkal can give the Union another avenue to explore on set pieces.

All three Czech reporters made sure to point how dangerous he was delivering corner kicks and free kicks. The question then becomes if the 5-11 attacking midfielder mirrors the 6-1 Bosnian too much, at the expense of a cohesive midfield unit. Both are on the taller side, and critics of both identify their technical expertise as the keys to their game. That sometimes correlates with a negative: pace. Medunjanin is probably the slowest member of the Union’s starting 11.

Would Dočkal’s addition exacerbate that problem in the heart of Philadelphia’s shape? Well, not necessarily. While not his strongest suit, Häring rates his pace at a seven out of 10. He also combines that with a solid work rate. “He is not the guy who would die on the pitch, I mean someone like  [Gennaro] Gattuso. On the other hand, he is not lazy so I would give him 7 out of 10, or 7.5,” said Häring.

The extras 

When discussing the characteristics he needs from his No. 10, Philadelphia Union head coach Jim Curtin recently told me, “It’s maybe not the prototypical No. 10, the Carlos Valderrama or the Marco Etcheverry where they kind of play just one side of the ball. They kind of stay in the center circle and only attack.”

He continued, “We don’t have the luxury of just having a completely free player on the field, a free No. 10.”

Curtin’s need for a defensively responsible No. 10 is based more in pragmatism than anything else. Medunjanin and captain Alejandro Bedoya need to be on the pitch. That need prevents Curtin from fielding a true defensive midfielder. Because of this, he asks his No. 10 to help shield his defense.

Unfortunately Häring, Kaliba, and Vacek all identified defense as one of Dočkal’s biggest weaknesses.

“He isn’t good in defense,” Vacek said. “When his team is under pressure, it’s a very difficult time for him, and he can’t really help. He doesn’t like defending too much.”

Häring added, “He was criticized sometimes for his lack of effort toward defending, but the offensive numbers were always overwhelming it.”

That last clause might be all that matters. If Dočkal produces, Curtin might not mind living with a “free No. 10.”

There was one issue on which the three Czechs were divided. That’s Dočkal’s mentality.

“The biggest issue of Dočkal, from my point of view, is his moodiness,” Vacek said. “He can play great, but also terrible… you mostly know after 15 minutes of the match. Dočkal is also impulsive, talks with referees or the opponent. It’s not difficult to poison him and get him out of game.”

Vacek continued, “He can be very angry on teammates also, if they make some mistake. Some players suffered it very badly in Sparta [Prague] or the Czech national team…”

Häring offered this on the subject: “He is a type who does not hide himself on the pitch and can take responsibility, but also can lose his head sometimes (some arguments with referees).”

Kaliba painted a different picture. “He has the image of quite the thoughtful soccer player, even off the field,” Kaliba said, “no scandals as far as I remember (off nor on the field).”

All three echoed praise of Dočkal’s mentality in one regard. “When the mood is good,” Vacek said, “he can be the true leader of the team.”

Dočkal seems to walk that same line the great Cristiano Ronaldo treads on the field. They both have that passion not only for the game, but for winning. It can sometimes come off as petulant or arrogant, but it seems to stem from a place of leadership, accountability, and a true desire to win.


  1. Interesting rundown. The topic of mentality is what intrigued me the most. Well, I mean, once I realized the rest of the article confirmed our hopes about what kind of player he is.
    So, he has a short fuse and will yell at teammates, opponents, refs…he’s Philly tough! 😉
    Honestly, right now, I think Bedoya is the only guy with a real fire on our team, so adding a second guy is a good thing in my mind. As long as they don’t end up at each others’ throats regularly.
    Now let’s see if that contract can get worked out before we get too excited…

    • I’m already excited. You don’t get on a plane if it’s not in the advanced stages. Not that it’s 100% but they really can’t afford to mess this up.

    • “So, he has a short fuse and will yell at teammates, opponents, refs…he’s Philly tough!”
      Philly Tough = Philly Stupid
      This is a big yellow flag for me. A taller version of Alberg would not move this team forward at all.
      Leadership is about keeping your head, not losing it.

      • I was kidding about the “Philly tough” thing. Just trying to have fun.
        If it’s motivational, it’s one thing. If it’s petulance, that’s something else entirely. And none of us know enough to judge at the moment.

  2. el Pachyderm says:

    Although Derrick has not impressed me this preseason, if this move happened I would not understand why he wouldnt play alongside Haris and put Bedoya as the outside mid…. Fabian Herbers isn’t half the player as Alejandro…. Derrick protects Haris and allows him to be deep and build- Bedoya in a position of strength and more of the attack. Derricks mid to long outlet passing is troublesome but with these players surrounding him he can basically just destroy and play short the recovered ball
    Ilsinho a substitute.
    This sideline manager would love to see it this way.

    • It comes down to have Jones or Piccualt out there. He’s gotta be the usual starter over Herbers.

    • This seems far too reasonable to me. No way it happens.

      I have to admit, too, that the financial and contract situation here doesn’t sound too positive. No matter what, Dockal’s Chinese club is going to have to eat a lot of transfer fee and value. But if a player doesn’t want to play, that’s not a good situation, either. My worry would be another club could come along and make a much better offer. We’ll see.

      • What club though. Not European, their window is closed. The Chinese club has too many internationals and he doesn’t want to be there. Not that it will definitely happen but he’s not flying here if it’s not at least close. Even if it’s a 1 year loan with no option to buy that’s fine with me, we got young guys waiting.

    • This is an interesting idea. I thought Jones looked just fantastic early in last season, but then much less impressive later.

      If it really comes down to Jones vs. Picault, we may need to make the decision based upon how the offensive vs. defensive balance of the team looks, and it won’t be predictable until we get them out on the pitch together and see what the chemistry is like. If Dockal is kind of an Alberg-like defensive dog, but makes the offense really hum, then maybe we sacrifice Fafa’s speed on the flank, put Bedoya out there, and bring Jones in to be destroyer.

      OTOH, if Jones still isn’t ready for prime time, then maybe we say screw it, put Fafa on the wing, play to score 3 goals a game and hope that Dre keeps us in enough matches to score some points. (That would sure as hell be exciting to watch at least!)

  3. Nothing about it yet on the Union or MLS website but his Wikipedia page says he is now on loan with Philadelphia Union.

  4. Just exchanged my dark glasses for a nice rose colored pair! Really hope this pans out! A change if venue can work wonders for unhappy players! Happens all the time in baseball!

  5. So this guy is Ronaldo?! Sweet

  6. Great news! Let’s hope it gets finalized shortly. This Founding STH is now definitely more excited about the upcoming season!

    With Mrazek trade, Flyers now have 4 Czech players on their roster. It should make it easier for Dockal to settle in Philly area.

  7. Atomic Spartan says:

    Let’s talk about arrogance, petulance, argumentativeness, etc.
    These attitudinal ingredients bring an unsavory flavor to the game to be sure. They look bad. They can cause dissension, turmoil, even internecine warfare. Philly fans don’t have a good history with them (cf Mike Schmidt, Dick Allen to name two). And SOB’s have shown low tolerance as well (Alberg, Ruiz). It even grates on Jimbo (Rosenberg 2017).
    Bad Signs
    BUT, swallow your pride and give them room, because sometimes, the Bad Boys can do things the White Knights don’t or can’t. Like hold others accountable for quality. Or take outrageous risks. They can be artists. The best pure scorer and creator I ever coached was a Bad Boy. You have to understand them. Keep them on a leash, but make it a long one and get over yourself cuz its not about you. It’s about accepting an annoying diversity that can make the team better in spite of the dyspepsia.
    Let ’em play and keep control of your own ego.

    • To that end, it sounds like Dočkal was “top dog” while at Sparta so that kind of behavior may have been exasperated by the expectations on his shoulders and/or the lack of a teammate with the gravitas to keep it under control.
      Players like Bedoya and Medunjanin may impact his behavior here should the terms be agreed upon.

    • Quakershiker says:

      Our Coach is Jim Curtain!
      “keep them on a leash… get over yourself cuz its not about you”
      I don’t think Jim will manage this player or his bad boy ego.

  8. I do enjoy the reactions here and on social media to this potential signing. None of us had ever heard of this guy before yesterday, and now we are either ecstatic or sarcastically pessimistic.
    The truth is, we know nothing. But it appears the front office has scoured the globe for someone that can fit the hole in our lineup. There is no need to rush to judgment on the player, but I will applaud the front office for turning over every rock to find someone with the skill set needed and who fits the budget.
    In semi-related news, I had a Twitter entry pop up on my Timehop earlier this week from 3 (?) years ago. I was welcoming Aristeguieta with a lot of passion as if he would be a savior.
    So, how’s about we give it some time and let’s see how this plays out.

    • I agree. While it’s nice to know that the Union are doing something, we have no idea how this player will work out, or if he even will.

      Was just looking up ‘nando to see he’s back in Venezuela playing for his hometown club. Hope he’s doing well.

    • This leads to something that has been on my mind: “…who fits the budget.”
      If this turns out to be a loan with an option to purchase, transfermarkt has him listed at ~$1.8mil and he was most recently sold for 3 times that amount.
      With a ton of funny money going into the Accam transfer, such a move would be mostly Sugarman opening his wallet.

      • Correction, he was sold for 5 times his current listed value.

      • You have to consider the environment of the Chinese Superleague and realize how inflated all of their prices were/are. Chances are his team won’t recoup that price from anyone anywhere on the planet. They’ll have to take a loss of some sort.

      • For sure.
        I guess I’m trying to say that it would/could/should represent the investment we all have been calling for from Sugarman (1/1.5+ mil).

  9. So assuming Dockal happens, do they still spend $500K to bring in 20yr old Venezuelan Ronaldo Lucena as #10 b/u and to be the future, or does Fontana already fill that role?
    This team has never been much at stockpiling quality depth, but as the Eagles showed when they signed Ajayi and others, it really helps if you want to compete at highest levels.

  10. The possibility of cultural dissonance is always an issue in these cases. Curtin seems rather inflexible in his concept of what is important on the field. Culturally, the way this guy behaves might be at odds with the American concept of what is acceptable. Actually , Feilhaber would have been a much better risk, because his attitude deficiencies were known. I am sure this guy is no Barnetta in terms of attitude, but lets not try to make this guy fit that silly American stereotype attitude, and just see we can get on the upside relative to the downside. The fact that Curtin is already talking about defensive responsibilities before seeing anything is like Maurinho telling Pogba to lie deep and defend. Let him play at his best, and work with him.This league is so average that you can get away with a lot.

  11. “…he had freedom from coaches on the pitch. The best way to use Dočkal is just let him play.”

    Sounds like a perfect player for Curtin. I can see why Ernie wanted to bring him in. Cuz tactics r tough.

    Great write-up!!! Well done on tracking down those in the know! Most of the things they were saying seem pretty positive for a good fit into the Union’s needs.

  12. I look forward to hearing that the Czech is in the mail. Even that “promise” would have me thinking a bit more positively about the upcoming season; I am not as worried about the season as all of that, but this is simply a better bit of news than I think that we have had all offseason.

  13. Allan Stevens says:

    Hopeful the U can pull this off. Really hopeful.

    Simply, and given by resume and interviews of Europeans above, he is easily one of the top 10 out field players on the club.

    Bring him in. Please

  14. I heard rumor Chinese government might prevent this…something about a terra cotta toe and Philadelphians…

  15. Big props to Mr. Fishman on an excellent and timely article. That’s really quick work tracking down knowledgeable sources that fast. Great work!

  16. Sparta Prague fan here. He left a gaping hole in the team when he left, but Sparta couldn’t turn down the outrageous fee China offered. They paid about 2x – 3x his value. After he left, Sparta fell in the second half of the season and had a bad start this year (so bad, they bought a new #10 and a #9 in the Winter).

    Dockal is fantastic on free kicks, either shooting on goal directly or putting it into a specific part of the box. He has a good long shot as well.

    I’ve been keeping track of him a bit in China, it seems he doesn’t have much quality support around him. Not a surprise he’s trying to get out.

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