By 90Min
February 19, 2018

Barring something spectacular from Thomas Muller, the 2018 World Cup will have a new name on its list of Golden Boot winners.

That's nothing new though; not a single man on the storied list of top goalscorers have repeated their success. Not Ronaldo (The); not all-time leading World Cup scorer Miroslav Klose; not even Just Fontaine could follow up his 13-goal performance in '58 with...well, anything really - he retired early with injury.

Of all the World Cup's Golden Boot winners though, Oldřich Nejedlý is comfortably the least heralded. The man who preceded him in 1930, Guillermo Stábile, had a 20-year spell in charge of Argentina and remains one of the most prolific international managers of all time. The man who followed him in 1938, Leônidas, has been hailed as one of the most important players of the early 20th century - and, of course, is one of the men credited with creating (or at least popularising) the bicycle kick.

So what happened to Nejedlý? How did he manage to spend the 80 years since his last World Cup goal sat in relative obscurity? To be blunt, who the hell was the guy?

The simple stuff first. Oldřich Nejedlý was an inside-forward who won the World Cup's Golden Boot at the 1934 World Cup. Born in the village of Žebrák - then of Austria-Hungary, later of Czechoslovakia, currently of the Czech Republic - who scored 29 goals in 44 internationals including a Czech record seven in World Cups. He's also the only Czech player to score at multiple World Cups.

He also scored 12 fewer international goals than Milan Baroš, because sometimes being an all-time great is trumped by persistence and being the average focal point of a good team.

Trite but true - the modern go-to is a scan of any player's Wikipedia page, usually packed with information on historical figures and barely-discovered prospects alike. Nejedly's sums just four paragraphs.

(You may also be interested in 'World Cup Countdown: 18 Weeks to Go - Who Would've Won the 1942 Tournament?'

As it turns out, half the significant information in even that scant biography appears to be false. His dates of birth and death appear to stack up, as does his status as the 1934 World Cup's top scorer (ratified in 2006 by FIFA, when he was credited with a fifth goal in the tournament).

The statistical content is - although unsourced - largely right. Beyond that, the details become stretched. Twice he's referred to as a one-club man at Sparta, but while he spent 10 years in the Czech capital he not only went on to play for Rakovník after leaving Prague in 1941, but also went back to where it all started - his home village of Žebrák.

His international career was ended with a bang, it is said, when he broke his leg in the Battle of Bordeaux in the quarter-finals of the 1938 World Cup, a game which saw him score Czechoslovakia's only goal in a 1-1 draw with Brazil.

(You may also be interested in 'World Cup Countdown: 18 Weeks to Go - The Pre-War Pele & Bicycle Kick King Leonidas'

That, too, bears only the loosest resemblance to the truth of the matter. Nejedlý did play and score in the famously vicious game, but his leg remained intact - as did his international career. His World Cup did end on that day in the south of France though, a relatively minor knee injury ruling him out of the replay which saw Brazil progress.

Approaching the age of 29, he returned from that injury for Sparta early enough to make a splash in the same year's Mitropa Cup, although not the type he would have envisaged. A missed penalty in the second leg at Letná saw his side knocked out by Genoa in the first round, 5-3 on aggregate after a 4-2 spanking in Italy.

It wasn't injury that forced him from the international scene either, featuring in four further games for his country before World War II rather slowed the march of global football for six years. On the domestic scene, his playing career at the top end for Sparta came to an end for a reason even more tragically inevitable than a player failing to recover fully from a serious injury.

(You may also be interested 'World Cup Countdown: 18 Weeks to Go - When the Dutch East Indies Flew the Flag for Asia')

He got old. It was that simple. 32 years old at a time when players would routinely finish their careers at 27, and in the middle of a war to boot. In the middle of the war. Whether the prospect of one last World Cup in 1942 - a chance to put right the wrongs of the lost final in '34 - could have kept him going longer is a matter only for some incredibly obscure pub 'what if?' chat.

Nejedlý's story doesn't have one of those World War II-era players' endings though. Post war, he went on to play a role in the Czechoslovak national team's third World Cup in 1954; one of three coaches who saw them tonked 2-0 and 5-0 by Uruguay and Austria respectively.

Not one to follow in the footsteps of his predecessor as Golden Boot winner and take a 21-year stint in charge of his national side, he actually went on to take up a position as director of a state transportation company ČSAD branch in Beroun - keeping his hand in the game by making a point of going to Sparta's home games and turning out for a team of the club's ex-players for many years after his retirement.

Almost fittingly for a player whose career was so defined by FIFA's showcase tournament, he passed away at the age of 80 during Italia '90; his home nation's most successful tournament since his own playing days, as they went on a run to the quarter-finals only to be stopped in their tracks by West Germany.

Massive thanks to Michal Patrák for his help in researching this piece.

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