Ex-employee hates Jágr’s management style

Jaromír Jágr may be a fantastic hockey player but he’s not much so far as owning a hockey club is concerned.

Thus the former sports manager of the Rytíři Kladno club Martin Vejvoda.

The club that has given hockey a number of stars, including Jágr himself, was in dire straits after the 2010-11 season. When it looked as if Czech top league in Kladno would be gone, Jaromír Jágr rode in on a white stallion and bought the club.

It helped so far as the books were concerned. It didn’t help much on the ice, ex-manager Vejvoda claimed in a story published by the isport.cz website the other day. Last season, Kladno, once the proud Czech Extraleague champion, was relegated. This year, the club managed to make the so-called first league’s tournament that decides which team would be elevated, but that was as far as it got.

Once the club’s competitive season was over, Jágr signalled from North America that it would not be over so far as the players’ work was concerned. They would still be paid for the next two months, Jágr said, so, he expected them to start serious practices that would prepare them for the next season.

That didn’t sit well with the players. And since Jágr expressed doubts about the quality of his club’s management, former sports manager (equals something close to general manager in North America, but not completely) Martin Vejvoda felt he was slighted.

So, he went on Facebook and suggested Jágr ought to keep his mouth shut.

“It’s one thing to employ people, and another matter to solve things,” Vejvoda said. “You can’t do that without having the authority. Coaches should have it, too. What system to play, who’s going to play. They weren’t free to do their job.”

Besides, nobody dares run the day-to-day operations, either. Jágr, claims Vejvoda, announced through the media that his preference for the club’s new coach would be Jindřich Lidický, but the hiring process is at a standstill until Jágr returns from North America by the end of April.

Lidický is a name that resonates with many Kladno fans. He was a star forward with the club in one of its famous incarnations decades ago. His younger version has been coaching Kladno’s junior teams. Apparently he was quite successful, too. Jágr, who knows his club will require a bit of rejuvenation, is on record as saying that Lidický has not only brought the kids up, but he also knows them. That’s why Lidický would be perfect for the job.

Ex-manager Vejvoda summed this situation thusly:

“After the relegation season (last game took place April 20), the owner would show up in the arena at the end of July. The club brings in new assistant coaches but not the head coach after it had been relegated. The club enters the new season with seven defencemen, aged 22.5 years on average. There’s nobody to run the day-to-day operations, with subsequent deduction of points (for this transgression).”

Strong sentiments. Made stronger by the fact that Kladno alumni such as Jiří Tlustý, Ondřej Pavelec and Radek Smoleňák express their agreement by signalling they like what Vejvoda said on Facebook.

Vancouver Canucks’ forward Radim Vrbata owns one third of the Mlada Boleslav club in the first league, the isport.cz journalists mention pointedly. Yet, their story continues, Vrbata has delegated a lot of decision-making powers onto others. They have the right to make decisions during the season without consulting their boss. Only the most important issues depend on Vrbata’s participation. Unlike in Kladno, where Jaromír Jágr has to have the last word on everything.

“And it’s difficult to get hold of him,” added ex-manager Vejvoda. “I was told I’d be responsible for hockey operations. It didn’t happen. I recall a game at Prostějov where some players’ attitudes were unacceptable. Even though nobody cared about defence before the season, I was of the view that there should be not only fines, but that some of those guys deserved to be fired or transferred into a lower league. But I couldn’t do a thing without the owner’s permission,” Vejvoda added.

Whatever Jágr says, people take it seriously.

“He (Jágr) was active in the club’s work over the summer,” said Vejvoda, “and that was very good. Except, as soon as he left for overseas, our hands were tied. It can’t work that way,” said Vejvoda. He decided to fix the defence situation by himself, was told he was overstepping his mandate and, by mid-November, he had enough and resigned.

“Two of the young defencemen got injured,” explained Vejvoda. “I brought in (23-year-old) Lukáš Kužel, a passionate player and a fighter. It wasn’t an expensive acquisition, either. Except, I was told I have broken policy rules.”

The isport.cz story doesn’t quote any reaction by Jágr. Either the isport.cz journalists thought accusing Jágr is going to bring in enough eyeballs to justify this lack of tradecraft, or they are trying to confirm what the ex-manager Vejvoda had said: Jágr is difficult to get hold of.

Still, it is interesting: Jágr single-handedly saved the top league team for Kladno. He came in just as it looked that relocation would be imminent.

And these are the thanks he’s getting. There’s an old Czech saying: Pro dobrotu na žebrotu. Meaning, roughly and in verbatim translation, be good to others, and you’ll go begging. Or, better still, no good deed goes unpunished.

Indeed.

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