Petr Cech: After football's inglorious week, a keeper of the faith
Although the John Terry court case has exposed the seamier side of the game, there is still room for the good guy. One such is the Chelsea captain's team-mate. Glenn Moore talks to him
There were times, as football's oft-besmirched reputation was dragged through asterisked mud last week, when a fan of the sport could despair. But if anyone needed reminding of the game's capacity to inspire as well as disgust, they could have found it in Prague.
While his captain was enduring a difficult time in the dock at Westminster magistrates' court, the Chelsea goalkeeper Petr Cech was enjoying an altogether more wholesome experience, coaching children at his annual academy.
Given Cech had not finished the club season until the Champions League final on 19 May, and then played for the Czech Republic in Euro 2012, and then, yesterday, flew to Seattle on the first leg of Chelsea's US tour, surely he should have spent the brief window in his playing schedule on a beach?
"I had a very good break in Spain with my family after the European Championship," said Cech, adding that his time at the academy, which is based at Sparta Prague's training ground, was as good a break from the stresses of the professional game as a holiday. "Putting smiles on the faces of children brings me a lot of pleasure. I have been doing it for seven years and it is always a great time.
"There was nothing like this when I was a kid. I would have loved it. The boys are aged six to 15 and they have English classes [organised by the British Council] and fitness tests as well as playing football, so we can track their progress if they come back."
Cech was not able to comment on John Terry's case, as the matter remains one of acute sensitivity. He did, though, agree that the experience of players such as himself, Terry and Frank Lampard would be important as Roberto Di Matteo continues the regeneration of a team that won the Champions League but came sixth in the Premier League. Didier Drogba has left for China while Eden Hazard and Marko Marin have joined the club. Other recruits are expected to follow. The pair are with Chelsea for their four-match US tour, which takes in matches in New York's Yankee Stadium, Philadelphia and Miami after Wednesday's fixture in Seattle.
"It is important for a team to have new players, young players and experienced players," said Cech. "I hope we find the right balance to go through the season and have success."
One Chelsea player who is not in the US is Thibaut Courtois, the Belgian goalkeeper signed last summer. Courtois is seen as a replacement for Cech but after the latter's good finish to last season Chelsea handed him a four-year contract and allowed Courtois to spend a second year on loan to Atletico Madrid.
"In big clubs they are always buying top players for every position, it is up to you to keep your place," said Cech. "When the moment comes it will come, but I believe I have a lot offer and I will try and keep my place for another four years."
If Cech sees out his deal he will have spent a dozen years at Stamford Bridge. "When I joined I tried to gain my place in the starting XI, to play as much as possible and win trophies, but I was not thinking I could be at Chelsea for 12 years. The club is a big part of my life and I am very happy there."
Cech was signed – initially, though not for long, as understudy to Carlo Cudicini – from Rennes for £7m. Claudio Ranieri did the deal but by the time Cech arrived he was gone. He has had seven managers in eight years but despite the instability Chelsea have won 10 trophies in that time.
"Ideally a club keeps the manager for a long time but sometimes that is the way it is," said Cech. "If you have an owner who expects the team to win trophies every year, some times he will change the coach. Last year the change made a difference which ended up with two trophies."
One of those was the long-sought Champions League. "It is fantastic for our club, a big step forward. We are now officially one of the few clubs who have won the Champions League. We are now like those clubs with that history, like Milan, Real Madrid, Barcelona."
Di Matteo was rewarded, eventually, with the manager's job permanently, which did not surprise Cech. "If you have the coach of the team who wins the Champions League and the FA Cup you expect that to happen," he said. "That is good as all the players know what to expect from the manager already. We don't start from zero."
Di Matteo's predecessor, meanwhile, has pitched up at White Hart Lane. Did that surprise Cech? "No, because Andre [Villas-Boas] showed he is a great manager before he came to us, that is why the club brought him in. We were doing the right things on the training ground but we were not able to transfer this into games. It became an issue because we were not able to find the reasons for that, but I believe he will have a different story with Spurs."
After Villas-Boas departed, Chelsea's players pulled off a series of remarkable results, culminating in the Champions League final defeat of Bayern Munich. Even though Chelsea went behind in the 84th minute, having been overrun all game, Cech always believed. "We had been down at Barcelona with 10 men but we managed to go through – that gave us a lot of confidence. When we conceded I thought we could equalise. We had done so many things with a few comebacks during the campaign. We scored, extra-time came, I was lucky to guess the right way with Arjen Robben's penalty, the rest is history."
Cech's joy was only slightly dented by a disappointing Euro 2012, with one embarrassing error against Greece. "I found the gap between the end of the club season and the Euros too long. You do something like a short pre-season having played 60-plus games for your club. Players suffer a loss of rhythm. But a mistake like that can always happen."
Cech's errors are, though, rare, which is why he will again start this season in Chelsea's goal, with 160 new young friends willing him on.
Petr Cech Academy: www.skola.petr-cech.cz/
Words to the wise
The John Terry trial has shone an unedifying light on the Premier League, not least the banal quality of its verbal exchanges. To judge from the evidence at Westminster magistrates' court, footballers' badinage does not get much beyond profanities, playground insults about bad breath and references to opponents' sex lives. Was it ever thus, or was there a golden era of Wildean repartee in the national game?
Research into this important issue is sketchy, but it would seem sledging in times past – when the sport was regarded as "a man's game" and violent behaviour was neither censured by referees nor captured by widespread television coverage – concentrated more on threats of physical intimidation. The arrival of black players led to plenty of racist abuse, there have been incidents of homophobia and, more recently, a trend for players boasting of their wages. But amongst the dross, there have been some bon mots.
I get a kick out of you
Hughie Gallacher was always talking, arguing and swearing to rile the opposition. He would say to big centre-halves, "How did you get on the field? You won't get a kick of the ball today." Everybody would be chasing him, trying to kill him!
(Bill Shankly, on the Newcastle, Chelsea and Scotland striker of the 1920s & 30s)
"Next time you finish in the Queen's lap."
(Jimmy Guthrie, Portsmouth, to Wolves' Teddy Maguire, after his first tackle of the 1939 FA Cup final. Portsmouth won 4-1; Maguire had a quiet game)
According to Bill
An experienced Scottish player threatened Tommy. I said: "You break his legs and I'll break yours." He didn't bother Tommy after that.
(Shankly on protecting young Preston team-mate Tom Finney, 1940s)
A step too Farr
"Don't you ever come in the penalty area again."
(Jim Farr, Bradford City goalkeeper, to a 17-year-old John Charles after flattening him at a corner. Charles replied: "I won't Mr Farr, believe me I won't." 1949)
Matthews and son
"Why did you feel you had to do that son?"
(Sir Stanley Matthews to Jack Charlton, after Charlton pulled him back by his shirt. Charlton, then 20, said he felt ashamed and responded: "I am very sorry Mr Matthews". 1955)
A bit of an animal
"What are you doing here – you should be locked up in a zoo."
(Sheffield Wednesday's stylish Bobby Craig to Chelsea's Ron "Chopper" Harris on the latter's debut, 1962)
Best and worst
"And that's just for starters, Bestie."
(Bobby Collins, Leeds, to George Best, 1964)
... Best with Nobs on
"Every time you kick George, you filthy bastard, I'm going to frigging well hit you like that, only harder."
(Nobby Stiles to Collins, same match, after exacting retribution for Best)
"Is it true that Jimmy Clitheroe is your daddy?"
(Scotland's Jim Baxter to Alan Ball, England v Scotland, 1967)
"Do you think you'll be a player when your voice breaks?"
(Billy Bremner to Ball, same match)
Football as religion
"Baxter called me a Catholic **** and I responded by calling him a Protestant ****."
(Johnny Giles, Leeds, on an incident with ex-Rangers player Jim Baxter, then with Sunderland, 1967)
The best by far
"Why can't you be more like Bobby Charlton. He's a gentleman."
(Giles to George Best, both before and after a tackle Best said left him with a broken shinpad and a cut shin, 1960s)
Scrubs up well
"You're a bunch of scrubbers."
(Typical insult by Sunderland players to Leeds in a mid-60s match, according to Giles, who added "taunting opponents is common in professional football")
"How does it feel to be a navvy among artists?"
"How many caps have you got?"
(Exchange between Eamon Dunphy, Millwall, and Trevor Hockey, Aston Villa, 1973; Hockey had eight caps then)
Me and Mr Jones 1
"Is that all you can do, follow people around?"
"That's what I'm getting paid for today, son, so you'll have to put up with it."
(Exchange between Paul Gascoigne and Vinnie Jones in the match in which Jones grabbed Gazza's testicles, 1987)
Me and Mr Jones 2
"If you're so good why are you so fat?"
"I pay more in tax than you get paid in wages."
(Jones and Gascoigne, same match)
"After you miss this, any chance of you doing me a patio?"
(Robbie Savage to Geoff Horsfield, a bricklayer before he turned pro, during a shoot-out between Leicester City and Fulham. Horsfield missed, Leicester won. 2000)
"I'm on 80 grand a week, how much do you earn?"
(Joey Barton to Karl Henry, according to Henry, 2011)
Most examples sourced from 'Do that again son and I'll break your legs' by Phil Thompson (Virgin, 1996)
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