Much like his successor Petr Cech, Carlo Cudicini was a virtual unknown when Chelsea rescued him from Castel di Sangro. However, the extent of Cudicini’s talent was known by his fellow Italian Gianluca Vialli, who initially signed him on loan in 1999. Nine and half years and 141 league appearances later, Carlo Cudicini had firmly cemented himself as a true Chelsea hero and as one of the most popular players in the history of the club.
At the time of his arrival, the Italian was faced with competition from the long serving and dependable Dutchman Ed de Goey, as well as the talented though controversial Australian, Mark Bosnich. De Goey was ageing, whilst Bosnich was on a path to self destruction.
Though not particularly tall for a goalkeeper, Cudicini’s agility and outrageous athleticism, combined with his stunning reaction time and typical bravery, meant that he had all the talent required to be a world class goalkeeper. His pedigree helped too, his father Fabio kept goal for Italian giants AC Milan, the club where Carlo started his career.
These traits were soon obvious, as he quickly dethroned the likeable de Goey, and showing himself to be one of the most capable goalkeepers in the land. His affable nature, wonderful ability and his often noted good looks, swiftly cemented his position as a favourite amongst the Stamford Bridge faithful.
Season 2001-2002 saw Cudicini voted by those same fans as Chelsea’s Player of the Year. The accolade was well deserved, as he had been outstanding throughout the season in an inconsistent side, as was de rigeur at the time.
These were the halcyon days for Cudicini. His talent was recognised by the entire league, with the likes of Henry, van Nistelrooy and Shearer all left stunned by the Italian’s incredible ability to stop nearly everything that came his way. Coupled with that, was his unnerving ability to save penalties, with Gary McAllister, as well as Henry and van Nistelrooy, all unable to beat the Chelsea goalkeeper from 12 yards out.
Cudicini’s stock was rising, though the mere existence of Gianluigi Buffon, Francesco Toldo and Angelo Peruzzi meant that international honours never came his way, a travesty of the modern era. Throughout season 2002-2003, he was recognised as the best goalkeeper in the league, and was awarded the ITV “Golden Gloves” award at the seasons end. Week after week, Cudicini made stunning saves, still leaving strikers nonplussed. Not only that, he was dependable. Mistakes were few and far between, and when they did occur, they were soon forgiven when he next prevented a sure goal. One particular save from Ruud van Nistelrooy was cheered by the Chelsea fans as if it we’d scored a goal!
Injury problems the next season saw the gradual decline in Cudicini’s playing time, as Marco Ambrosio deputised in crucial matches towards the end of the season, as the Blues crashed out of the Champions League at the hands of AS Monaco.
Then came Mourinho, and with him, the precociously talented Petr Cech. Initially signed as backup to Cudicini, the Czech quickly became first choice, with the crowd favourite providing a more than competent alternative. Cudicini remained second choice for the remainder of his career at Chelsea.
However, just last season, he provided a reminder of his incredible talent. He made 19 appearances due to various injuries to Cech, but the crowning moment came in the thrilling 4-4 draw at White Hart Lane. Having already made a world class save from Robbie Keane, Cudicini showed his talent and skill had far from diminished, with his stunning stoppage time save. Dimitar Berbatov looked certain to win the match for Spurs, but his fierce strike was incredibly stopped, Cudicini reacting lightning fast to stretch out a right hand and divert the ball around the post. Martin Tyler described it as an “astonishing save” and once more, the save was cheered like a Chelsea goal.
Throughout his years as second choice, Cudicini was never heard to moan about his situation. In fact, upon his departure in January to Tottenham, there was not a single negative comment to be said about his approach to training, whilst every appearance was still warmly applauded by the fans. His dedication, work ethic and professionalism were all exemplary, and Chelsea fans can consider themselves lucky to have witnessed the very best of Carlo Cudicini, a true Chelsea hero. He departed having made 216 appearances in total, keeping 101 clean sheets.
Carlo Cudicini, we salute you. All the best, you will always be a Chelsea legend.