Time to give a round of applause to Chelsea's departing stalwart
Petr Cech’s move to Arsenal is expected to be announced on Monday. It will end Cech’s tenure at Chelsea, a period spanning a decade. He has been involved in every success of the Abramovich era, including four Premier Leagues, four FA Cups and one Champions League.
Throughout his time at the club, Cech has been a quite leader, and the anchor of Chelsea’s defence. Even when Thibaut Courtois displaced him last August, he remained dedicated to the team. Cech never complained, never spread rumors in the press. He accepted his place as the number two keeper, and went about business.
Cech first came to the club in the summer of 2004, on a £7 million move from Rennes. Although Jose Mourinho had just started his first stint at the club, Mourinho’s predecessor Claudio Ranieri was the one who secured the Czech’s arrival.
Right off the bat, Cech had to fight for his spot, much like Courtois did. Carlo Cudicini had been the number one for several seasons, and it was only a pre-season elbow injury that kept him from starting the season in goal.
Cech pounced on the opportunity, however. In the first game of the season, a home match against Manchester United, Cech kept a clean sheet. He never looked back, setting the record for clean sheets kept in a Premier League season (25), as well as most time spent without conceding (1,025 minutes, or 85 days). He conceded 13 goals in 35 games
Petr kept a clean sheet again (his 24th) on April 30th, the day Chelsea became champions. It was a perfect bookend to the season. The Premier League rewarded Cech for his magnificent season with the Golden Glove.
Cech played a crucial role in Chelsea’s title defence the next season. He shut United out again, this time on April 29th, as Chelsea clinched the league with a 3-0 victory. Petr allowed just 20 goals in 34 games.
He looked set to have yet another stellar campaign in goal, before October 14th, 2006. It was a game at Reading. The game kicked off, started normally, and Reading sent the ball towards Cech. He ran out of goal, sliding to get it, and Stephen Hunt ran by, jumping over Cech to avoid an early clash.
Hunt wasn’t completely successful, however. He left one leg down, hitting Cech in the head. Cech stayed down, and less than a minute into the game, was taken off. Doctors would later say that the injury nearly cost Petr his life.
Mourinho would later say that Hunt’s challenge was clumsy, and insinuated that he was intending to injure Cech. Hunt claimed that although he was challenging for the ball, he was not purposely trying to harm Cech. In any case, the damage was done.
Cech was kept on the sidelines for three months. He returned in time to help Chelsea win their second League Cup. Cech then failed to concede for a remarkable 810 minutes, a run that included eight straight clean sheets. He also won his first, and only, Premier League Player of the Month award, for the eight clean sheets.
Petr then helped Chelsea to a cup double, beating United 1-0 in the FA Cup Final.
He spent much of 2007-08 injured, a year that did not treat Chelsea well. Mourinho left in September after clashes with Abramovich over style of play. The Blues failed to win any trophies, losing in both the League Cup and Champions League finals.
Cech returned for the Champions League final, which went to penalties. Cech saved Ronaldo’s penalty, in the third slot, giving Chelsea the advantage. However, John Terry’s infamous miss leveled the game, and Nicholas Anelka missed to give United the silverware.
The 2008-09 year wasn’t a good one for Chelsea either. Although they won an FA Cup, no small thanks to Cech’s fine performances, the Blues finished third in the Premier League, and went out of the Champions League in bitter fashion.
Carlo Ancelotti was given the manager’s job in the summer, and the following season saw Chelsea return to Premier League dominance. The Blues won the title in convincing fashion, scoring a record 103 goals. Cech conceded 32, second lowest in the league.
His performance in the FA Cup that season was vital to Chelsea’s success in completing the double. In the final, he saved a Kevin Prince-Boateng penalty, which would have given Portsmouth the lead in the 54th minute. Didier Drogba scored the only goal just four minutes later.
Cech’s crowning performances came in 2011-12. He conceded just five goals in Chelsea’s FA Cup run, including three clean sheets.
Petr saved the final for Chelsea. They had taken a 2-0 lead, but after Liverpool brought Andy Carroll on, the Reds began a strong comeback. Carroll scored in the 62nd minute, and nearly scored in the 81st.
Carroll headed a cross towards goal from 6 yards out, and the ball looked to have crossed the line. But Cech then flew out of nowhere, clawing the ball back from the abyss and into play. Replays later showed that Phil Dowd’s decision was right: the ball never fully crossed the line.
The Champions League semi-finals also brought Cech glory. In the first, at home facing Barcelona, he kept a clean sheet, despite Barcelona’s 70% possession, and 15 shots on target.
His performance in the second leg was even better. After John Terry was sent off, Ashley Cole and Cech rallied the inexperienced and out of shape backline. Even though Barcelona scored two goals quickly after Terry’s removal, the Blues shut the game down in the second half.
Barcelona kept 72% of the ball, and had a whopping 22 shots on goal. Still, Cech kept the Catalans from scoring the decisive goal. Even Messi failed to beat Cech, missing a penalty which would have given Barcelona the lead.
Cech continued his heroics in the final, against Bayern Munich. Although the undisputed hero of that game was Didier Drogba, Cech’s performance cannot be undervalued. He let just one of Munich’s 21 shots on goal go in.
In extra time, after Drogba brought Frank Ribery down in the box, Cech saved Arjen Robben’s penalty. Had Robben scored, there was little chance the Blues were coming back.
Then, in penalties, Cech pulled Chelsea back on even terms, saving Ivica Olic’s penalty to even the score at 3-3. He guessed the right way on Bastian Schweinsteiger’s penalty, forcing the German to push the penalty even further right, and onto the post.
Cech was voted Man of the Match by the fans, finally receiving the attention that he had long deserved.
Petr’s amazing length made him a formidable keeper, particularly because he could cover so much of the frame. He rarely came out far. When he did, Cech timed it just right, rarely allowing an opponent to round him, and almost never conceding a penalty.
Cech had a perfect mix of finesse and physicality. Although Courtois is much better in the air, Cech was no slouch in dealing with crosses and corners. He also had the technical ability to shut down players like Messi and Ronaldo.
Most amazingly, Cech never hesitated to dive at a players feet. You would think that a player who nearly lost his life from a challenge would be very careful. But Cech was also snatching balls away from opponents, in the thick of a crowd in the penalty area.
As Cech leaves the club, fans need to put aside the future, and salute the past. He was a mainstay at Stamford Bridge during many a storm year. It’s time to give a round of applause to Cech.
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