In November of 2007, Milan Baros’ black Ferrari F430 was clocked by a speed gun east of Lyon travelling at 168 mph, over twice the speed limit and the highest ever recorded in the history of the region.
The Czech’s legacy would never quite match the Hollywood blockbuster episode that unfolded on that French freeway. He would return home to Lyon by taxi that night, symbolic of a career constantly sabotaged every time he appeared to be in the footballing fast lane of success.
The closest equivalent came two years beforehand in Istanbul when he played an 85-minute cameo in Liverpool’s own Hollywood blockbuster, coming from three goals behind to defeat AC Milan on penalties – for those who might somehow have forgotten.
In 2001, Liverpool manager Gerard Houllier gifted Baros his dream move to one of Europe’s big leagues, moving from his boyhood team Banik Ostrava. This ended a 2-year scouting assignment on the raw young striker that traced back to a youth tournament with the Czech Republic.
His debut would be his only appearance of the campaign, coming on as a substitute at the Nou Camp in the Champions League. The following season, he scored 12 goals in an impressive campaign, ending with a League Cup winners medal.
However, the following season would be one to forget. Baros was sidelined for six months after breaking his ankle against Blackburn Rovers and rarely featured in the starting eleven for the remainder of the season.
Optimism would return for Liverpool fans as he won the golden boot at Euro 2004, netting 5 times for the Czech Republic. There were even murmurs of Barcelona interest after his fine exploits in Portugal.
The 2004/05 season was a hit and miss one for Baros. Djibril Cisse offered worthy competition up front and the two would interchange regularly for a starting position. Baros’ involvement in the journey to Istanbul took place on the fringes.
Baros’ involvement on the famous night would be mostly remembered for impressively avoiding Vladimir Smicer’s thunderous strike as well as placing Xabi Alonso in a headlock during his celebration of the equaliser.
Talking about the celebration that ensued after the penalty shootout, Baros said:
“There’s 10 seconds or so there where I can’t remember anything. Sometimes I watch the highlights of the penalties and I see us all running like madmen towards Jerzy. I can’t remember that run. It was crazy, you can’t describe it. The emotion and the euphoria, just wow.”
Questions over his commitment and motivation were commonplace at many of the clubs he played for. However, his drive for success and silverware cannot be waved aside and this was evident in that Champions League final of 2005. Nevertheless, his time at Liverpool had run its course.
In the summer of 2005, Baros was sold to Aston Villa after being deemed surplus to requirements by Rafa Benitez. He would score 12 goals for Villa in the 2005/06 season but was ultimately extradited to Lyon halfway through the following season due to a questionable work rate and lack of effort.
His stay in Lyon would not last long. Baros had made a bright start to the second half of the season, under his old manager Gerard Houllier. However, he was suspended for the remainder of the season in April after allegedly racially abusing Stephane Mbia. A return to England lay ahead.
Despite never scoring a goal for Portsmouth during his brief loan spell, his contribution in their FA Cup success of 2008 was still crucial. He won a penalty in the quarter-final and set up the winning goal in the semi-final. Silverware appeared to follow Baros, regardless of his overall input.
At Euro 2008, Baros was famously booked for his eccentric celebrations to a goal against Turkey on the touchline. This was especially bizarre as he was an unused substitute.
Signing for Galatasaray in 2008, Baros would have his most bountiful season in front of goal. His 20 league goals fired Galatasaray to the Turkish League title. A much-needed respite of consistency amidst a topsy-turvy few years.
However, in 2009 he would once more attach his name to controversy, receiving a lifetime ban from the Czech Republic after a late night partying spree following a World Cup qualifying match. Luckily for Baros, he would be reinstated after a managerial change the following year. His international career would end three years later through injury at Euro 2012. He would finish just seven caps shy of 100 international appearances, scoring a healthy return of 41 goals.
Baros would miss a significant portion of the following domestic campaign with Galatasaray after breaking his foot. Falling out of favour in the 2012/13 season, he left Turkey to return to Banik Ostrava. Since then, the man so often referred to in his home country as ‘the Ostravan Maradona’ has bounced between a number of Czech and Turkish teams as his career entered its twilight years.
Baros’ career in football has undeniably been one of success. His trophy count for someone continuously accused of playing at a level above his worth cannot be discredited.
A Euro 2004 Golden Boot, a Champions League winners medal and League Cup with Liverpool, an FA Cup with Portsmouth, two French Ligue 1 titles and a Turkish League title mirror an efficient success ratio for a player hampered by injury and steeped in embroilment.
Baros, at the age of 36, currently plays for the team it all started at, Banik Ostrava, coming full circle from a trophy-filled tangent at a string of Europe’s most illustrious clubs. As Liverpool line up this coming Saturday night for their Champions League final match in Ukraine; Baros is the only active player remaining from that night in Istanbul 13 years ago.
Frustration from both fans and teammates will rightly warrant claims for what could have been. However, if a player is to be judged by his accolades and trophy haul, then Milan Baros’ career must be placed in good standing when he eventually calls it a day.
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