His head is shaved close enough that the scar from the operation on his fractured skull is still visible and he says that he finds it hard to concentrate on walking or watching the television for any longer than 15 minutes before he becomes tired. But Petr Cech announced yesterday that he believes he will make a full recovery from the dreadful injury that has become the source of so much controversy this month.
Cech made his first return to Chelsea's training ground in Cobham, Surrey, on Thursday since the collision with Reading's Stephen Hunt on 14 October that left him in need of immediate surgery and out of football for at least three months. This week, the Czech international spent three hours with Jose Mourinho and his team-mates and took the first tentative steps towards recovering his match fitness with the Chelsea medical staff. With the metal plate in his head, he was a reminder to a very wealthy and successful group of footballers of the perils of their profession.
The issue that has divided English football since the injury at the Madejski Stadium - whether Hunt intended to inflict hurt on Cech by trailing his knee or whether it was simply an accident - was not a question that the goalkeeper could shed much light on. His memory had been so badly affected by the clash that he could not remember the kick-off from the match, let alone the collision 16 seconds later.
"I have tried to think about this and the last thing I remember is the shaking hands before the game started," Cech said. "I remember the warm-up, I remember the journey from the hotel to the stadium because I take the match programme and read a little. I went around the pitch, I like to see what the pitch looks like and I did that.
"After that I remember the warm-up with Silvino [Louro, goalkeeping coach], Carlo [Cudicini] and Hilario. The last thing I remember is going out of the dressing-room in my kit. The handshakes are the very last thing I remember because JT [John Terry] lost the toss and I had to run to the other end. I don't even remember the kick-off."
Even in hospital, it will have been difficult for Cech to have avoided the controversy that has unfolded in the wake of his injury, although the comments of Mourinho will have come as little surprise to a player that knows him well. The Chelsea manager's allegations that Hunt's challenge was intentional - as well as the accusation that Reading Football Club and the South Central ambulance service NHS Trust in Berkshire failed to provide adequate service - received only a diplomatic response.
"I have seen it [the challenge] once [on television] and I was surprised in that I thought it happened on the other side of my head. So that just proves that I don't remember anything," Cech said. "I have seen it only once and I don't want to speak about this for the moment because even for me it is difficult - but the club is dealing with that and I will leave it with the club for the moment.
"I have seen the Carlo incident as well [when Cudicini was knocked out by Ibrahima Sonko]. It is always difficult to watch yourself on the floor but I could still see myself speaking to the doctor and moving. When I saw Carlo and he was looking like that, it was really horrible. When you see your colleague, or any professional footballer, lying on the pitch like this, it is really horrible."
While Chelsea have sent a letter to the Football Association detailing their grievances - in particular the 29-minute wait they claim took place between calling for an ambulance and Cech leaving the stadium in one - what was clear is that he will have to wait some time to play again.
At least three months is the most optimistic diagnosis and Cech told Chelsea TV that he was still feeling the unpleasant side-effects.
"Sometimes it is difficult because I wake up and have a horrible headache so I have to take my medication which is very strong," he said. "It is not the best because afterwards you feel really tired, really quickly. You want to walk and you want to watch the telly but after five, 10, 15 minutes you are tired and have to stop."
With the club doctor, Bryan English, Cech has begun a very light programme of recovery - walking and massages - before they begin the process of building up his muscle and fitness again. After the World Cup, he had surgery on his shoulder although he was back in time for the start of the season. This time he accepts it will be a much longer process.
"You are sitting at home and you can't hardly move and you see your colleagues play for three points in difficult games, Champions' League and things," Cech said. "Sometimes it is difficult as you know it is not going to be the case for you for at least three months. You have to accept this."
He paid tribute to his wife, Martina, a fitness instructor, who had stayed with him at his bedside in hospital "showing me love every minute" and also his team-mates. He had received a message from Shay Given, the Newcastle goalkeeper currently on the injured list with a perforated bowel, and letters from all the goalkeepers at Portsmouth.
Even Portugal's Ricardo, of Sporting Lisbon, the scourge of England's penalty-takers, had sent his sympathies. There was praise for his replacement, Hilario, who was in at the deep end against Barcelona but, in three games, Chelsea have won every one and conceded just once.
When he recovers sufficiently, Cech and Martina will go on holiday even though there are no guarantees about when he will be fit to play football again.
"I just try to live with that and I hope every day it is going to get better - and when I was able to go home, the mood was better," Cech said. "When you are at home, your family is there, your wife is there, your dog is there and I have got so many visitors and so many cards that wish me a speedy recovery. I can feel there are so many people behind me and wishing me well, this is the best thing you can feel, and that is why I feel relaxed now at home. I hope the fans will support the team as best they can and I will do my best to come back even stronger than before."Reuse content