“The goalkeeper is the jewel in the crown and getting at him should be almost impossible. It’s the biggest sin in football to make him do any work.”

George Graham had once said; yet defenses are breached, mistakes are committed, and like the last sentinel guarding the treasure once a fort has fallen, goalkeepers are summoned into action. There cannot be a position more important than that of a goalkeeper in football.

  • A national record for not conceding a goal in 855 minutes of game play.
  • The then Premiership record of not having a goal scored against him in 1,025 minutes.
  • 25 games without letting a goal be scored in the historic 2004/05 season.
  • Barclays Golden Glove: 2004-05, 2010-11
  • UEFA Best European Goalkeeper: 2005, 2007
  • Chelsea Player Of The Year: 2010-11
  • Chelsea Special Achievement Award

These are some of the achievements of a player, who has guarded the Chelsea goal from the time when just a solitary goal scored by Mourinho’s team was enough to cast a shadow of perpetual doom in the opposition camp to a time when Villas-Boas’ transformation still is a work in progress; who is one of the most accomplished goalkeepers of his generation; who excels with his handling, one-on-one skills, reflexes, positioning, jumping, agility, anticipation, concentration and position abilities;Ai??whose presence in front of the Chelsea goal has been enough to bring about a sense of security and relief amidst the ranks and whose absence is enough to give sleepless nights to the fans. These are the accomplishments of Petr Cech.

One of the biggest highs in sports is to see a player play on despite an injury; the body giving up, but the mind carrying him through.Ai??In the game against Blackburn last weekend, Cech broke his nose, or so was believed at that point in time. He was bleeding profusely, and cotton had to be plugged in to stem the blood flow. But, he continued. At half-time, Villas-Boas asked him to come off, but he refused and took his position in front of the goal in the second half with his nose tightly strapped. Chelsea went on to register their first clean-sheet after opening day, and claimed an important hard-fought win, after two back-to-back losses. Ladies and Gentlemen, that’s Petr Cech for you!

Cech - Signing of the decade for Chelsea?

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The Beginning – How Communism helped him

In 1989, when the Velvet Revolution brought democracy to Czechoslovakia, Petr was 7 years old. While he was well aware of what was happening around him, at his tender age, it was difficult for him to understand the politics behind it all. It was only when he grew up, he realized the true significance of the development, and why it was such a necessary step for his people. However, for the children, communism served as a blessing inAi??disguise. As everything was so organised, it was compulsory for the kids to participate in sports – football, ice hockey, handball, volleyball, and basketball dominated the proceedings in schools.

“Being a child in that system was not that bad because you had so many opportunities to enjoy yourself after you finished your school day.”, Cech admitted later.

Cech started playing as an outfield player, but at the age of 10, he broke his leg and tried his hand at goalkeeping. In one of the matches for his local club Viktoria Plzen, he was entrusted with the responsibility of keeping when the regular keeper was injured. Thus, began the journey of one of the best exponents of the trade in the modern-day game. Petr made his senior debut for Chmel Blsany aged 17; two years later, he was snapped up by Sparta Prague. He immediately went 903 minutes without conceding a goal, setting a Czech Premier League record in the process. It was his performances for Sparta which made bosses at top European clubs sit up and take notice.

He represented Czech Republic at the under-21 championships, and it was his heroics in the final against France, wherein he saved three penalties in the shootout, that saw his team win the tournament. He was named the player of the tournament, and with this, Cech had arrived on the grand stage of world football. Thereafter, Wenger tried to sign the 19-year old, but Arsenal couldn’t secure a work permit for him, and the move collapsed. Cech later moved to French club Rennes for a fee of A?4 million and stayed there for the next two years. His time in France proved to be very crucial for his development.

“In France I had more time to train with the goalkeeping coaches. We had a lot of time together and even when we didn’t have time during the normal training sessions, we tried to come a bit early or stay a bit late to get our special training in. So we worked really hard and I made a lot of progress with head coach Lazlo Boloni and the goalkeeping coach Christoph Lollichon.”, recalls Cech.

In Euro 2004, Czech Republic reached the semi-finals and Petr was voted in to the tournament’s All-Star team, in addition to bagging the Best Goalkeeper Award. Then, Chelsea called.

From 2004 To 2006 – Best Goalkeeper in the World

Cech was signed by Cladio Ranieri forAi??A?7 million in February, 2004, but by the time the Czech international landed in London, a managerial change had taken place at Stamford Bridge. Mourinho told both Cudicini and Cech that his number one would be determined by what the two keepers do during pre-season, and the latter grabbed the opportunity with both hands. At the age of 22, ‘Big Pete‘ started in goal for Chelsea in the opening game of the historic 2004-05 season against Manchester United.

Big Pete had all the weapons in his armory – he was big, he marshalled his defense in an assured manner, his superb reflexes enabled him to make stunning reaction-saves, and he showed maturity way beyond his years. In his debut season, astonishingly he didn’t concede a goal for 9Ai??consecutiveAi??games in the league. In one of the most memorable European nightsAi??at Stamford Bridge, with the score 3-2 in Chelsea’s favor, Cech produced a super-human performance to deny Barcelona thrice in the second half and won the game for Chelsea. First Belletti, then Puyol, and finally Iniesta thought that he had scored the all important goal – but, even god couldn’t have beaten Pete that day in the second half!

.

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Chelsea won back-to-back Premiership titles and emerged as a strong contender for the Champions League in Petr Cech’s first two seasons at The Bridge. After his monumental exploits in Euro 2004, his performances for Chelsea during this lead made him arguably the best goalkeeper in the world. However, all that was about to change – that too in horrific fashion.

October 14, 2006 – The Day he was ‘Hunt’ed!

With mere seconds on the clock, while playing Reading away from home, just as Cech had dived sideways to gather the ball, he was hit on the head by Stephen Hunt’s knee. Chelsea’s number one managed to crawl off the pitch, but collapsed in the dressing room afterwards and had to be rushed to the hospital, where the doctors confirmed that Cech had suffered a depressed fracture in his skull. The doctors performed an emergency brain surgery, and lifted two loose pieces of skull from his brain. A metal chip was later inserted in their place. Had they penetrated any deeper, the keeper could have died.Ai??The fact that as Cech is one of triplets, his skull was anyway marginally thin. This made him more vulnerable to head injuries.Ai??Even after the surgery was over, Petr’s troubles were far from over.

“I wanted to prove everyone wrong but it was hard. At the beginning, I even had difficulty speaking. The words would come out all wrong. I had terrible headaches, headaches so bad I couldn’t move. Medication helped but some days I was too exhausted to do anything. Even watching television for more than five minutes was hard.”, revealed Cech.

It was initially believed that the goalkeeper will definitely miss the on-going season, if at all he manages to make a return to football.

The Return – Story of Character, Grit, and Determination

Eventually, everything in life comes down to character. Not one to give up without a fight, the determined goalkeeper resumed training gradually, and followed a special recovery program at Chelsea. On some days, he could train, while on others, his body just refused to get off the bed. The healing took time, but miraculously Petr made a comeback within three months of that fateful day in October!

To this day, he wears a skull-helmet to protect his vulnerable head, but carries on nonetheless.

Still One of the Best, if not the Best Around

After his return, the aura of invincibility was somewhat lost, as he began to commit mistakes, every once in a while. He appeared reluctant to challenge for balls in the box, fearing a knock. Ai??The frequent changes in management, and thereby in the training routines and defensive tactics, didn’t help matters either. Having said that, it was not that he became a bad keeper altogether; just that the god-like consistency levels that one had come to expect from the Czech international were absent. Previously, Cech had no bad-days at the office; now he started to appear human, with a mistake thrown in between a couple of good performances. He still remained a very good goalkeeper.

After Carlo Ancelotti took over the reins at Chelsea, Cech’s performances began to somewhat remind the observers of his pre-injury days. The confidence was gradually returning; it was there to be seen – if a ball was there to be won, he was going for it. In the double-winning 2009-10 season, he won the Golden Glove Award for keeping the maximum number of clean-sheets in the league. Last season, he came second, two behind Joe Hart, but was adjudged the Chelsea Player of the Year nonetheless.

Petr Cech has again come under the spotlight this season, with few even going to the extend of considering him past his prime! Under Andre Villas-Boas, Chelsea have conceded more goals than they are accustomed to. But, they are also playing faster, and higher up the pitch than they are accustomed to. The team is under-going a transformation – not just in terms of personnel but also, and more importantly, in terms of playing style. The goals are being conceded because Chelsea are playing an unbelievably high backline with relatively slow centre-backs, and the defenders have been performing poorly. On the other hand, Cech has remained solid almost on all occasions.

Petr Cech is presently 29 years old, and is yet to reach an age where goalkeepers glow at their brightest. Even today he is one of the best in the game, but he still has awfully long time on his hands to improve further. Either way, he is already a part of the Chelsea folklore. He is already a Blue legend.

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References: Interviews conducted by Guardian, Telegraph, and Dailymail over the years. 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2 Responses to “THT Heroes: Petr Cech – Chelsea’s Symbol Of Character And Inspiration”

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  1. Argento says:

    “but, even god couldn’t have beaten Pete that day in the second half!”
    Too strong a statement. The arrogance was brought down to earth by Iniesta himself a few years later… Too much arrogance never served anybody…

    • Arnav says:

      But you seem to have missed the all important part in that sentence — ‘that day’ and then ‘in the second half’. This so called ‘that day’ and your ‘few years later’ fail to coincide by some distance. Insightful?