Twenty years into a career that has seen him win a remarkable number of trophies, earn numerous accolades and break records across Europe, Petr Cech has announced that he will be hanging up his skull cap at the end of the current season.
Cech made his debut in 1999 for Chmel Blsany in his native Czech Republic, and it wasn’t long before he was snapped up by Sparta Prague. He then joined French outfit Stade Rennes in 2002, making 70 league appearances in his first two seasons.
In 2004 Chelsea announced his capture for a club record-fee for a goalkeeper. He made the switch that summer having been named in the UEFA Euro 2004 Team of the Tournament, and injury to Carlo Cudicini meant he was thrust into the starting 11. He began his Chelsea career with a clean sheet against Manchester United, the first of 24 that season as the Blues won the league for the first time in 50 years; in the process, Cech went an record 1025 minutes without conceding in the English top flight. The feat was made all the more impressive given he held a record of 903 minutes for the same achievement with Sparta.
A second league title followed in 2006, while Cech added an FA Cup winner’s medal to his collection in 2007 as he (along with opponent Edwin van der Sar) became the first goalkeeper to record a clean sheet at the newly-built Wembley Stadium. The 2006/07 season was not without its dark moments, though. A horrific collision with Reading’s Stephen Hunt left Cech with a skull fracture, resulting in him requiring a protective skull cap for the rest of his career. The injury kept him side-lined for 15 league matches, during which time the Blues dropped 13 points and missed out on a third successive title. He won his second FA Cup in 2009 and followed it with the league and cup double in 2010, saving a penalty from Portsmouth’s Kevin-Prince Boateng in the final of the latter.
However, the trophy that had repeatedly eluded Cech was the Champions League. Despite having reached the semi-finals four times over five seasons, Chelsea had not yet added the trophy to their cabinet, coming agonisingly close in 2008 when they were beaten on penalties by Manchester United. A series of remarkable fight-backs in 2011/2012 saw them make the final for the second time, where they travelled to Germany to face Bayern Munich. Chelsea struggled for large periods, but the game’s defining moment came in extra time as Cech saved a penalty from former teammate Arjen Robben. He repeated the trick in the subsequent shootout, denying Ivica Olic and Bastian Schweinsteiger to finally bring the trophy to London.
The success of youth player Thibaut Courtois meant that the Belgian was handed the number one spot at the start of the 2014/15 season. Chelsea won the Premier League for a fourth time and Cech, seeing his opportunities grow thinner, made the decision to call time on his Blues career. In 2015 he made the move across London to Arsenal where, as fate would have it, his debut came in a 1-0 win over Chelsea in the 2015 Community Shield. However, the Gunners could not capitalise on their momentum and ended the season trophyless, although Cech did mark the season with personal achievements as he overtook David James’ record of 169 Premier League clean sheets before becoming the Czech Republic’s all-time appearance maker.
His time at Arsenal was never going to replicate his Chelsea tenure, with only one further FA Cup medal in his first three seasons. Unai Emery’s arrival at the Emirates saw an emphasis on the goalkeeper distributing the ball to his defenders in a style more aligned with the modern game. Early errors suggested that Cech was unsuited to this system and, following a minor injury, he has since found himself unable to displace summer signing Bernd Leno.
Cech will hope for one final triumph before he bows out, with the Europa League and FA Cup still available. Regardless of whether he claims either of those, the veteran shot-stopper departs having left a lasting impression, and will be remembered as a legend of the sport.