The once unarguable commitment of the Chelsea players has been called into question on numerous occasions this season as they have failed to mirror the grit and determination instilled under the previous regime. Even the once immovable John Terry has teetered on his pedestal, struggling to live up to the former iconic ‘die for the cause’ title as resident hardman (give or take the odd official of course). However, one man who can’t have failed to impress his sheer drive, not to mention courage, upon the Chelsea faithful over the past year is Petr Cech.
Wearing a protective chin strap alongside his now trademark headgear, Petr was only too happy to return to play against Wigan a mere eight days after undergoing facial surgery following a training ground collision with Tal Ben Haim. Cech had plastic surgery and 50 stitches after having his lip torn during the freak accident and early reports suggested he could face up to six months out. Cech himself had other ideas and having been advised that with the right protection he could return in two weeks, pleaded with medical staff to defy even that estimate.
It is Cech’s second serious injury inside two years, the previous one seeing him suffer a depressed fracture of the skull with just 2 minutes on the clock in that infamous game against Reading. In a challenge with the less than light-footed Hunt, Cech came off worst as Hunt slid in knee-down, making no apparent effort to clear the keeper. Alternatively, Cech maliciously headbutted Hunt’s knee, depending on who tells the story. Strangely enough, the same game saw Cudicini rendered unconscious after a challenge with Sonko, so clearly a nice gentle day for Reading. Despite initial suggestions the injury had almost cost Cech his life and fears he could be out of action for up to a year, the resolute keeper returned after the obligatory 3 months out. Hardly surprising Jose Mourinho placed him on his list of ‘untouchables’ then.
Not too shabby for a keeper who, on joining us from Rennes at the start of the 2004/05 season, was considered understudy to Carlo Cudicini. However, following Ranieri’s departure, Cech quickly impressed the incoming Mourinho and the rest, as they say, is history (not that we’ve got one you understand). Since keeping a clean sheet in his first competitive game for the club (in a 1-0 win over Utd), Cech has never looked back. Awarded the Golden Gloves at the end of the 2004-05 season for keeping a record 25 clean sheets, clocking up 1025 minutes of play without conceding. He was also nominated for the PFA Player of the Year award and named in the Premier League team of the season. 2005-06 saw Cech play in all but two league games, helping us to another title. Injuries have seen a slightly less consistent Cech since this time, although his resilience and total commitment are an increasing inspiration.
The good news is Cech signed a new contract on 1 February 2006, keeping him at Chelsea until 2010. But come the end of this season, should the much predicted migration to sunnier climates ensue, I for one will be hoping our inimitable keeper decides the grass is definitely greener at Stamford Bridge.