Thursday 17 October 2019

Cech not looking back just yet despite prospect of final reunion

Arsenal goalkeeper Petr Cech pictured during a press conference at the Mestalla stadium in Valencia on the eve of the UEFA Europa League semi-final second leg football match between Valencia and Arsenal. Photo: JOSE JORDAN/AFP/Getty Images
Arsenal goalkeeper Petr Cech pictured during a press conference at the Mestalla stadium in Valencia on the eve of the UEFA Europa League semi-final second leg football match between Valencia and Arsenal. Photo: JOSE JORDAN/AFP/Getty Images

Matt Law

When Petr Cech comes to reflect on a 20-year career that could yet finish with a 15th winner's medal, he will finally allow himself to watch the best moment of all.

Cech will retire from playing at the end of this season, with his final appearance potentially coming in a Europa League final against the club with whom he won it all - Chelsea. Arsenal hold a 3-1 lead from the first leg of their semi-final against Valencia ahead of tonight's second leg in Spain, in which Cech is aiming to extend his career for one more big match.

The pinnacle for Cech was undoubtedly 2012, when the goalkeeper saved a penalty in extra-time from Arjen Robben and two in the shoot-out to clinch Chelsea's famous Champions League final victory over Bayern Munich.

But, such has been the 36-year-old's determination to keep achieving, he has never allowed himself to relive the drama of seven years ago. "I've not watched the Champions League final," says Cech. "I've never seen the game. I've seen a part of the shoot-out because my son was watching it. And then I was in a hotel with the Chelsea team at dinner and there was a Champions League show on the TV and it went back to that.

"So there was me, Frank Lampard, Ashley Cole and JT [John Terry], and by the end we were watching part of the shoot-out - they only showed the last couple of penalties. But I've never watched the whole thing. I haven't watched the 2008 final either."

Asked why, Cech explains: "These are moments you watch when you stop. I like to live in the present. Sometimes when people look back too often they lose track of the present. If you always look to the past, it doesn't help."

Cech's career high of winning the Champions League came six years after the moment that could so easily have ended his career, when he sustained a depressed skull fracture against Reading, which resulted in the Czech Republic international playing for the rest of his career in a helmet.

"You don't realise you sense with all the senses on your skin, on your hair and I have it covered now with the helmet," says Cech. "So, everything behind me, you sense differently. I had to learn how to scan more behind me because of the helmet. That was the only change. I had an advantage because I was for three days in a coma, so I don't remember anything of the incident. So, to dive at somebody's feet is just something I was doing before and I never thought about it.

"Everybody told me not to play again that season. But I was thinking, 'No way, I will do everything and see how it goes'. I didn't put any target on it and then after those three months, when you wait for the skull to heal and everything was fine, they said I could start training with the team. Literally, on the third day, I played because I was training so well that I felt ready."

Cech will finish with the most clean sheets in the Premier League, currently 202, and having recorded the most clean sheets, 24, in a single season, in 2004-'05. And he could yet end with a final against Chelsea in Baku, but there would have been no chance of the most glorious of send-offs if Roman Abramovich had not given his personal blessing to a move across London to Arsenal four years ago.

"He wasn't too happy, but he knew I had done everything for Chelsea," says Cech. "It was his personal decision to say, 'OK, I don't really like to see you in that shirt' but it was my wish and because of all I had done for the club he kind of closed his eyes and said 'OK, you can go'."

The fact Cech has already played against another of his former clubs, Rennes, from whom Chelsea signed him for £7m in 2004, has given the prospect of facing Chelsea in the final a feeling of destiny.

"I don't know if it's a dream scenario or not. You have the last game of your career, a European final and then at the end you have an emotional attachment to the opposition team from the past, which probably is a bit too much. But if it happens it happens. It's the way it is."

Chelsea are preparing a technical role for Cech to take on some of the responsibilities of former sporting director Michael Emenalo, should he choose to accept it. Cech confirms he has offers on the table and asked if a return to Chelsea at some stage is inevitable, he replies: "I keep my door open. I will not judge the opportunity which comes by where, but what it is." (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Valencia v Arsenal, Live, VM Sport/BT Sport 2, 8.0

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