Roman Abramovich is not known as a man who lets sentiment get in the way of business, few billionaires are. But the Chelsea owner has undoubtedly listened to his heart and not his head in overruling Jose Mourinho regarding Petr Cech.
Cech is on the verge of joining Chelsea’s Premier League title rivals Arsenal, a club without a top-class goalkeeper since Jens Lehmann and lacking leadership and a winning mentality since the days of Thierry Henry and Patrick Vieira.
Signing Cech will immediately give Arsenal both of those essential qualities. He remains one of the top three goalkeepers in the Premier League and has won everything there is to win at club level. That is why Mourinho recommended to Abramovich and the Stamford Bridge board that they should keep Cech against his will for the final year of his contract or sell him overseas.
In the eyes of the Chelsea manager, Arsenal should never have been an option. The final decision essentially came down to Abramovich, who took advice from Mourinho, the chairman Bruce Buck and the directors Marina Granovskaia and Eugene Tenenbaum. At the start of this month, Mourinho was told that Cech would be rewarded for 11 years of outstanding service and consummate professionalism with the right to pick his next club, whether it be in England or abroad – effectively deeming him a special case.
Mourinho had no such problems in allowing Juan Mata and David Luiz to join rival clubs, but he had long since decided that the pair were not going to be of much use to him. Despite winning Chelsea’s Player of the Year award for two successive seasons, Mata did not fit into Mourinho’s system or style of play. Sure, there was the chance he would strengthen Manchester United, but the Spaniard was unlikely to have much more influence at Stamford Bridge. Chelsea sold Juan Mata for £37 million and signed Nemanja Matic for £21 million in the same transfer window.
Luiz was of more use to Mourinho, being able to deputise in the centre of defence or as a holding midfielder, but the money Paris St-Germain were prepared to pay for him was simply too good to turn down. The £48 million transfer fee covered the money Chelsea spent on signing the striker Diego Costa and Filipe Luis from Atletico Madrid.
Cech is different. He may no longer have been first-choice goalkeeper after falling behind Thibaut Courtois in the pecking order, but the 33-year-old proved how vital he remained to Chelsea and Mourinho last season. His display in the 1-0 win against Everton in February was one of the best goalkeeping displays of the season and helped Chelsea secure the result that many felt effectively secured the Premier League title.
Once the title had been wrapped up, Mourinho said: “Without Petr this season, I don’t think the club would be champions because he played important matches in the Premier League. Without these points, we probably wouldn’t be champions.” He was right.
Compare Cech’s influence to what happened just over 12 months earlier, when Sunderland effectively ended any slim hope Chelsea had of winning the title in Mourinho’s first season back after the deputy goalkeeper, Mark Schwarzer, had handed the visitors the lead. That is why Mourinho is demanding that Chelsea try to replace Cech with a top-quality replacement, with Stoke City’s Asmir Begovic very much the first-choice target.
There is also the fear that Courtois will not build the same affinity and loyalty to Chelsea as Cech. Real Madrid made an enquiry this summer and were warned off by the Blues’ £73 million asking price, but the Belgian could conceivably decide he wants to return to Spain over the next five years. Arsène Wenger may never have beaten Mourinho, but the Arsenal manager has certainly got one over on Abramovich.