“Petr who?” was the question on the lips of Chelsea fans when, mid season, it was announced that we had signed the keeper for the start of the 2004-2005 season.
Petr Čech is a 6’5” goalkeeper, from the small town of Plzeň in the Czech Republic. He is a dominant figure in goals, with his considerable height allowing him to collect crosses with ease. He is a fantastic shot stopper, who fills his defenders with confidence. Čech is also a very good distributor, with the ability to hurl the ball out to the halfway line to start a swift counter attack, almost Schmeichel-esq.
Čech learnt his trade at his hometown club, Viktoria Plzeň, where he sometimes played in midfield. He made his senior footballing debut, aged just 17, between the sticks for FK Chmel Blšany in 1999. His eye catching displays saw him move to Sparta Praha, for a fee of €700,000. After just four games of the Czech season, he won a place in the first team, a place he never lost, and went on to set a new national record for time without conceding a goal. It took 885 minutes for Čech to finally be beaten. Just for good measure, he wasn’t beaten in the Champions League until Matchday 5, in the process shutting out then Champions of Europe, Bayern München. Čech kept a total of 17 clean sheets throughout the season.
After just one season with Sparta, French Ligue 1 side, Rennes, forked out €5m for his signature. It was soon clear that they had a star on their hands, as he was already an U-21 European Champion with the Czech Republic. The ex-ice hockey player was rapidly becoming one of Europe’s brightest prospects.
Despite this, he was relatively unknown outside of the Czech Republic and France. Chelsea manager Claudio Ranieri was alerted to his talents, and halfway through Čech’s second season at the Stade Rennais, he agreed a £9m (€10.2m) move to Chelsea. He cost more than all of Chelsea’s previous keepers combined.
He had a chance to show the fans what he was about, as he was the first choice keeper for the Czech Republic at Euro 2004. The Czech’s finished top of their group, before being knocked out by eventual winners Greece in the semi final. Čech kept 5 clean sheets in the tournament, and won a place in the UEFA Team of the Tournament.
The quietly spoken Czech wasn’t sure of his place at the start of the season, because the man that signed him, Ranieri, was gone, and José Mourinho was the new manager. Not only that, but he had sizeable competition in the form of Carlo Cudicini, the Premiership’s outstanding keeper of the previous two seasons.
As the side ran out for the season opener at Stamford Bridge against Manchester United, observers were surprised that Mourinho had chosen Čech, ahead of the incumbent number one, Cudicini.
He soon showed the Premiership why he was preferred, his domination of the penalty area and his fearless shot stopping soon endeared him to the fans. His point blank range save from Robbie Keane’s header in a 0-0 draw was the first time that he had been able to show the crowd his considerable talent. After the first 10 games of the season, Chelsea had conceded just twice. The best was yet to come from the Chelsea keeper.
He pulled of another magnificent save, this time against CSKA Moscow in the group stages of the Champions League, as Chelsea cruised through to the knockout rounds. In the Premiership, he was beaten twice by Arsenal’s Thierry Henry on the 12th December 2004, but little did we know, that he would go over 11 games, or 1024 minutes, before next conceding. He was finally beaten by Leon McKenzie of Norwich City, but not before he had smashed the previous Premiership record of time without conceding, previously held by Peter Schmeichel. He also claimed top flight records for, the fewest goals conceded in a season; and the most clean sheets in a season. He was awarded the Barclay’s Golden Gloves Award, for the Premiership’s best keeper of season 2004-2004.
He was just as good in Europe, having his best game ever in the 2nd leg of the Champions League tie against Barcelona. He pulled of save after save to deny Belletti, Giuly and Eto’o, but the pick of the bunch was his stop on the line from Barça captain Puyol. In the first leg of the semi final against Liverpool, he pulled of a truly world class save, to keep out a header from Milan Baroš.
He was preferred to Cudicini for the Carling Cup semi final 2nd leg, and pulled of a crucial save, stopping Ronaldo’s goal bound shot in the dying moments. He unexpectedly played in the final, after Cudicini was ruled out through suspension, and was solid throughout as Chelsea won their first trophy since the 2000 FA Cup. After his first season, he had won the Carling Cup and the Premiership, as well as getting to the final four of the Champions League. He established himself as the best keeper in England, and possibly in Europe, with his world class displays for the Blues. He is also studying for a degree in law, and can now speak fluent English. Petr who? Now everybody knows, Petr Čech.