Summer of 2004. Chelsea Football Club have a new manager in Jose Mourinho. They also have a new goalkeeper in Petr Cech. Signed from Rennes by previous boss Claudio Ranieri, the Czech Republic international, just 22, has caught the eye of every big-name club in Europe. He’s a star of the future, few have any doubt about that.
The incumbent of the goalkeeping position at the time was Italian veteran Carlo Cudicini. Cudicini had been one of the best goalkeepers in the league over the past few years, being voted Chelsea Player of The Year in 2002 and the Best Premiership Goalkeeper of The Year in 2003. He was clearly, a firm fan-favourite.
But Mourinho made a big call in his first competitive game as manager. On the opening day of the 2004-05 season, against Manchester United, the Portuguese gave Cech his debut, ahead of Cudicini. This move caused unrest among several fans, who questioned Cech’s inexperience and ability at the top level. The rest, as they say, is history. 470 games and 219 clean sheets later, no one is complaining.
Cudicini though, wasn’t left completely in the wings during the season. He played in the FA Cup and the Carling Cup, the latter of which Chelsea won. He missed the final due to suspension, but starred in the earlier rounds, putting in impressive performances whenever he was asked to play. He filled in for Cech whenever the big man was injured, and played incredibly well everytime. In the 2007-08 season, he made his 200th appearance for Chelsea and featured in some big games for the Blues, most notably in both legs of the Champions League quarter-final against Fenerbahce. He left for Spurs in 2008, after notching up his 100th clean sheet for the Blues earlier on in the season. To say that he was very important to Chelsea’s successes between 2004 to 2008 wouldn’t be wrong.
Now, exactly 10 years later, Cech faces a role reversal. The situation now between the 32 year-old and Thibaut Courtois is eerily similar. Courtois established himself as one of the best in the world in the last three seasons with Atletico Madrid, where he was loaned out by the Blues. On his return, he has displaced Cech in the first-team.
Mourinho claimed that his starting of Courtois in the league opener against Burnley on Monday wasn’t an indication of permanent change. But a changing of the guard was evident to everyone watching. For the first time since joining the club, Cech had been left out of the starting XI despite being fully fit to play.
This has fuelled a lot of media speculation on the Czech’s future at Stamford Bridge. The Guardian claimed after the game that his future hung in the balance, while Mourinho himself admitted that he isn’t completely sure about his future, despite stating that he expected him to stay. Courtois himself has come out and said that he wants Cech to stay, and can learn a lot from him.
There is no doubt about the fact that Cech still has at least 4-5 good years in him still. Therefore, it is only obvious that being dropped to the bench at Chelsea will lead him to think about his future at Stamford Bridge.
Mourinho though, knows that having Cech at the club can only do good. Along with being a great mentor to Courtois, Cech can be called upon as and when the need and arises and be expected to do an efficient job. Any sort of injury or loss in form for the Belgian youngster will not cause even the slightest panic if Cech is around. The manager has also said that Courtois’ position is by no means secure, as Cech is doing a great job fighting for his place in the first XI.
Cech is still one of the best goalkeepers in the world, and having bailed Chelsea out time and time again over the past couple of seasons, the club know that his importance cannot be overstated. It is therefore imperative that the Blues try their best to hold on to their legend, as they attempt to try and dominate English football for many years to come.