The former Chelsea shot-stopper established himself as one of the finest goalkeepers the Premier League has ever seen, but his time in England was not without hardship
Having made his senior debut in 1999 for FK Chmel Blsany – it was not until five years later he would find himself on these shores in the colours of Chelsea, via a year at Sparta Prague and a further two at Ligue 1 outfit Rennes.
Arriving with a reputation of a solid, reliable keeper to the tune of £7m, Cech had expected to spend the majority of his first season in West London on the bench as Carlo Cudicini’s deputy, before an injury to the Italian meant Cech was fast-tracked to first-choice.
By March 2005, Cech had already written his name into the Premier League history books as he set a new record of 1,025 minutes without letting in a goal – a record that would later be broken by Manchester United’sEdwin van der Sar.
His first season at Chelsea saw a return of 21 league clean sheets – yet another Premier League record, as the Blues cruised to the title they would go on to retain in Cech’s second season.
Cech’s third campaign at the club however, was to be marred by the horrific fractured skull he suffered on October 14, 2006 during an away game against Reading.
There were barely 20 seconds on the clock at the Madejski Stadium before Stephen Hunt’s knee collided with Cech’s head, resulting in the ‘keeper undergoing life-changing surgery at John Radcliffe Hospital neurological unit in Oxford after what then-Blues boss Jose Mourinho claimed was a 30-minute delay for an ambulance.
The incident sparked a war of words that at the time had rarely been seen in the Premier League, with Mourinho taking aim at everyone from Hunt himself to the South Central Ambulance Service.
Cech, meanwhile, was lucky to escape with his life – let alone his career.
“Things could have been different,” the former Chelsea keeper explained to Sky Sports. “The doctors tried not to scare me too much and I never asked too much.
“But if you ask my wife, even now, she does not look too well. For her, the experience was a thousand times worse than it was for me. It was a very close call.”
A close call that would define the second half of his career, one where his protective rugby-style helmet would become as much of a regular staple of his match-day as his boots or gloves.
The injury, though severe, failed to stop the Czech international from enjoying one of the more illustrious club careers any goalkeeper in this country has seen.
Cech’s honours list makes for remarkable reading – four Premier League titles, two of which were won after the skull fracture, four FA Cups, three League Cups, one Europa League and perhaps most impressive of all, one Champions League.
The Blues ‘keeper would play an integral part in Chelsea’s first of two Champions League titles back in 2012, saving two of Bayern Munich‘s spot-kicks after the game had gone to a penalty shootout.
The 2013-14 season would see Cech make the PFA Team of the Year for the second time of his career, but the subsequent season would mark the beginning of the end for the ‘keeper at Chelsea.
Thibaut Courtois‘ arrival hastened Cech’s demotion to deputy, the new kid on the block rendering the old head somewhat surplus to requirements.
Given his status and confidence in his own ability, Cech would not play second fiddle for long – making the short trip across London to sign for Chelsea’s fierce rivals Arsenal – though it has to be said, there was not much ill-feeling from a Blues perspective, who clearly felt they had seen the best of him.
Ultimately, there assessment rung true – Cech’s Gunners debut a sign of things to come as he was at fault for West Ham’s opener on his first outing as an Arsenal player.
His time in North London was by no means littered with errors, but Cech in an Arsenal shirt seemed to represent a player in decline.
His reactions not what they once were, his inability to adjust to the requirements of modern goalkeeping, such as technical prowess with the ball at your feet all ensured for an underwhelming time under both Arsene Wenger and Unai Emery.
Cech’s final outing both as an Arsenal player and a professional footballer came, rather controversially, against Chelsea in the 2019 Europa League final.
The controversy stemmed from the fact it was well-documented that Cech was planning to begin his role as a technical and performance director for the Blues.
Emery’s decision to start a man in goal for a European final who would be employed by his opponents less than a week later would puzzle even the most optimistic of Arsenal fans.
The clash ended 4-1 to Chelsea, Cech may as well have flown home with the Blues squad from Baku such was the speed of his return to Stamford Bridge.
Since June 2019, the man widely regarded as the best ‘keeper the Premier League has ever seen has worked as part of the Chelsea hierarchy – though he did enjoy a very brief, bizarre return to the pitch.
In October 2020, Cech was included in Chelsea’s 25-man Premier League squad for the 2020–21 season.
The club confirmed Cech was included as an emergency goalkeeper and as a non-contract player, a decision made as a precaution given the unpredictable nature of the Covid-19 pandemic.
He also made one appearance for Chelsea’s Under-23 side, but now ensures he is only ever in goal for Guildford Phoenix – the semi-professional Ice Hockey outfit Cech lines up for.
After saving two penalties on his debut, it is clear Cech’s shot-stopping abilities were always the best around – whether it be at Stamford Bridge, the Emirates or the Guildford Spectrum Leisure Complex.