May 21, 2012

Petr Čech: The Goalie God

With the Champion's League trophy
People say Casillas. Neuer. Buffon. I scoff. It was the night of Petr Čech, when he proved that he is the king of all the goalkeepers, the one who steps up on the big occasions, standing like a giant in front of goal, stopping every damn thing coming his way. Take a bow.

Čech began his career in Škoda Plzeň, a small club in (then) Czechoslovakia. He initially played as a striker, but eventually moved on to the keeping role. When Portsmouth went into administration in 2009-2010, and their players stopped getting salaries on time, he said that he got reminded of his time back in Plzeň, where it was a very similar situation. He went on to join FK Chmel Blšany, but he made his name in Sparta Prague, where he went on for 903 minutes without conceding. He single handedly led the Czech U-21 team to the Finals of the European Championships.

After a one year spell in Rennes, Ranieri signed him as Cudicini's deputy in Spring 2004, and he agreed to join in the summer. Because of an injury to Cudicini, he was promoted to the starting spot, keeping a clean sheet against United, which Chelsea won 1-0. He went on to set a record for the highest amount of time without conceding a goal, which was eventually beaten was van der Sar. He also won the Golden Glove for the season, and conceded fewest goals in a season.

The dreadful head injury. Čech admitted later he felt very dizzy.
Čech went on pretty well for the next two seasons, which led to him being compared to the best. He was at the peak of his career as tragedy struck on 14th October 2006, when Steven Hunt challenged him for the ball, and struck him on the head with his knee. The doctors admitted to the fact that he almost died that day, as they were not sure about the extent of the damage. After that incident, ambulances are now stationed at the ground in case of emergency, a step which saved Muamba's life a few months ago, when suffered from cardiac arrest in the FA Cup quarter final against Tottenham.

Čech's Return
Čech returned to action in late January, far earlier than expected. He started a bubble hat, which he has worn ever since. He has had a roller coaster ride since then, having highs and lows in his career. He went on to win the Golden Glove again in the 2009-2010 beating Pepe Reina to it very closely.

One important thing about Čech is that he is dedicated. In November 2011, he collided with Ashley Cole in a match against Blackburn and suffered a broken nose. He played on bravely for over 80 minutes with the broken nose, swallowing blood in the process to such an extent that he could communicate to his teammates only through hand gestures. I can only imagine the pain. He returned pretty soon to action wearing a nose guard compelling people to compare him to Darth Vader. Such is his 'never give up' attitude.

Čech was instrumental in Chelsea's win over Barcelona in both legs when intercepted at crucial moments to keep Chelsea in the game, and along with Didier Drogba and Ramires, sealed Chelsea's progress with 10 men at Camp Nou. He was also the difference between the sides Liverpool and Chelsea, when they met in the FA Cup final ten days later. Such is his importance, that his deputy Turnbull let in four goals against the same opponents just 3 days later as Čech was rested for the final.

Robben's penalty save
On arguably the biggest night of his life, the Champions League final, where Chelsea faced Bayern at their own playground, he stood still when Chelsea's makeshift partially-fit centre halfs with just 3 days of match practice in the last month were pretty shaky. His reflex save denied Robben early on in the match, and he made a string of superb saves to deny Kroos, Muller and Schweinsteiger. Muller finally broke the deadlock with a header hitting it straight in front of him, which bounced and passed just in between the cross bar and Čech's giant palm. At 82 minutes, you'd think the night was over, but no, Čech had a great part in what followed. He saved Robben's penalty in the first period of extra time, and quickly pounced on the rebound, as Chelsea fans all over the world held their breath.

He dived the right way for each of the five penalties in the eventual penalty shootout. Saved two of 'em (Schweinsteiger's one hit the crossbar after Čech's touch. He said,
I either guessed pretty well or I was ready to guess pretty well.
It seems he had studied each Bayern player before the match took place. But he also mentioned Robben's was the toughest.

I didn't know what to do with Robben. Half the time he shoots to the right, half to the left. He even runs up the same way to the ball, whether he's shooting right or left. No pattern, whatsoever. But when you're tired, you've played in 104 or 105 minutes, players choose power rather than technique, rather than placing it. I thought he'd smash it somewhere near the corner and he's left-footed. If I'm left-footed, I thought: 'I'd go across goal' [to the right]. Which is why I went that way.
John Obi Mikel admitted later that he deliberately told Robben that he was gonna miss, and successfully unnerved him.

Čech says about Neuer's goal,
They have [Jorg] Butt, their other goalkeeper, who takes penalties. His technique is to slow down and wait for the goalkeeper to move, so I wondered if Neuer would do the same. That's why I didn't reach it. I waited and couldn't quite reach it.
Just after the victory, a very emotional Čech said,
I dunno what to say really. I dunno what to say. I was... I was so proud of everybody when we got the equaliser, because it was not easy, and the pens, I went five times the right way... I touched the first one, so I kept believing that I would eventually get at least one, and I got two! So that's fantastic.
Chelsea's heroes!

By the time he completed, Didier Drogba had joined him, and he had this to say about him,
It's difficult to tell, the only thing I knew is that... uh, (Juan) Mata told me- even if they score, we have time to score another one, David (Luiz) told me to believe...  And when we have this guy in the goal (pointing towards Čech), you have to believe. So even if it was difficult, I believed. 
On his homework, Čech says,
You know I went six (six out of six) penalties right way, and I saved three. So basically, the homework was very good.
He goes on,
I can't describe the feeling I had. I was shouting. I didn't know where I am (was), I saw Didier doing the same thing. It was the first time in my life. I didn't know what to do. It's unbelievable. You can't even imagine the feeling.

Didier Drogba may have made the headlines and front pages of newspapers all over the world, but it was this towering giant of a keeper who was the actual reason for Chelsea's victory. There are few good goalkeepers in this world. Fewer can save penalties, even fewer who save their teams! Maybe this is the way Čech announces to the world: I'm back, Homies!

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