It appears that Petr Cech is not one to brag. Given his magical career, that must take some restraint.
As the curtain draws to a close on 20 years as arguably the best goalkeeper of the Premier League era, Cech speaks enchantingly about the moments that shaped his journey.
From the collision with Reading’s Stephen Hunt at the Madejski Stadium in 2006 that left him in a coma with a fractured skull, to Champions League glory in 2012, to the moment — sitting in Roman Abramovich’s living room — when he asked for a transfer to Arsenal.
Petr Cech is determined to win one last trophy – the Europa League – to end his career
Cech reveals that retirement feels ‘quite distant’ given Arsenal’s Europa League run
Cech is engaging, but what impresses is his reluctance to congratulate himself.
‘I try not to look back, because I want to live in the present and make sure the present finishes as well as possible,’ he explains. ‘The moment I stop, I’ll have time to sit back and look at my amazing journey.
‘If when I started, someone had told me that 20 years later I’d be in this position with all the cups and records then I wouldn’t have believed it.’
When Cech, 36, refers to the ‘present’ he means Thursday night, in Valencia. Arsenal take a 3-1 advantage into their Europa League semi-final second leg, which Cech hopes is his penultimate match as a professional — not his last.
‘The reality of retirement is still quite distant when you have another game and then maybe another game,’ said Cech. ‘My dream of finishing with the trophy is still alive.’
Cech, though, has already lived his dream. Four Premier Leagues, four FA Cups, three League cups, a Europa League win and, unforgettably, that night in Munich seven years ago.
Cech hasn’t watched Chelsea’s 2012 Champions League final against Bayern Munich
Cech likes to live in the present and will recall such moments when his career has finished
A footballer’s pinnacle — winning the Champions League. After years of coming agonisingly close, including a loss to Manchester United in the 2008 final and four semi-final defeats, Chelsea were finally kings of Europe.
Cech, as ever, was central. After the game had finished 1-1, his extra-time penalty save to deny Bayern Munich’s Arjen Robben was breathtaking, and his shootout stops from Ivica Olic and Bastian Schweinsteiger allowed Didier Drogba to seal the club’s greatest triumph. But Cech refuses to watch it back.
‘I’ve never seen the game,’ Cech said. ‘I’ve seen a part of the shoot-out because my son was watching it. Then I was in a hotel with the team and there was a Champions League show on TV that went back to that game.
‘I haven’t watched the 2008 final, either. These are moments you watch when you stop. I like to live in the present. You need to find ways to improve the situation in the present so I try to keep focused on it. Once I sit down I can watch all the games I want.’
Cech recalls telling Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich that he wanted to leave the club
Abramovich was reluctant to let Cech depart but eventually said that he could leave
The irony that Cech’s last game could be against Chelsea in the Europa League final in Baku on May 29 has not escaped him. But there will be no conflict of interest if that happens.
Cech worked so hard to become an Arsenal player. After a season sitting on the bench following Jose Mourinho’s decision to make Thibaut Courtois the club’s No 1, it was clear to Cech that he had to leave Stamford Bridge.
Arsene Wenger was interested and a move to the Emirates was Cech’s preferred option. There were significant obstacles in his way, though. Mourinho didn’t want to sell his keeper to a direct rival. Owner Abramovich was showing similar reluctance.
But then Cech — not for the first time in his career — produced the near impossible, persuading the Chelsea owner to change his mind.
Cech recalls: ‘I had a meeting at his house. We sat down, I expressed the reasons why. I was nervous — this was what I wanted to do and I didn’t have a plan B.
‘He wasn’t too happy but he knew I had done everything for the club. It was his decision, so he closed his eyes and said, “OK, you can go”.
‘Playing against Chelsea in the final looks a big possibility, with us in a good position and them having the second game at home.
‘I don’t know if it’s a dream scenario. You have the last game of your career, a European final and then you have an emotional attachment to the opposition team, which probably is a bit too much. But if it happens, it happens.’
After a collision with Stephen Hunt there were fears Cech would never play again
The fact that Cech is still going strong after two decades is testament to his fortitude. In 2006 it seemed he might never play again — or suffer an even worse fate — following his sickening collision with Hunt. The fact that he was back playing after just three months sums up his character.
‘I wouldn’t say it affected me much apart from the fact that I had to play with the helmet and I had to find a new way to look behind me,’ said Cech.
‘You don’t realise that you sense with all the sense on your skin, on your hair, and I have it covered now. So I had to learn how to scan more behind me because of the helmet.
‘But I didn’t really think about it. I had an advantage because I was in a coma for three days, so I didn’t have a memory of those days.
‘I don’t remember anything of the incident. When you’re in a car accident and you remember it, every time you’re in the car and you see something coming you might have that feeling of “What if the car suddenly turns?” I don’t have that.’
Cech is completing his coaching badges and Chelsea have made no secret of their desire to bring him back ‘home’.
Failing that, his son Damian has just enrolled at the Blues’ academy as the Under 10s goalkeeper.
If he is half as good as his dad, then Chelsea have got a player on their hands.