Cudicini fires first shots in duel with Cech

Click to follow
The Independent Football

Unlike the Chelsea players who performed at Euro 2004, Carlo Cudicini has already had a couple of days to work at close quarters with the club's new manager, Jose Mourinho, and provide some insight into what makes Portugal's man of the moment tick.

Unlike the Chelsea players who performed at Euro 2004, Carlo Cudicini has already had a couple of days to work at close quarters with the club's new manager, Jose Mourinho, and provide some insight into what makes Portugal's man of the moment tick.

Mourinho has marked himself out with a confidence that sometimes seems to border on arrogance, but for Cudicini it is part of his armoury. "People may not like his brand of self-assurance but I think that for a manager it's really important, especially when you have so many important players in front of you," Cudicini said yesterday. "You have to show you can handle it."

He added: "It's difficult to judge someone so quickly but on first impressions, he's been very good. He has his own ideas about the way he trains the team. With [Claudio] Ranieri [the former Chelsea manager], we used to split into different groups but Mourinho does everything together and asks for a lot of concentration and intensity."

With Marcel Desailly having decided to leave the club by mutual consent yesterday and Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink likely to follow, Cudicini acknowledges there will be a different atmosphere around the place. Soon, others will arrive as Mourinho finalises his dream 24-strong squad.

Cudicini faces the new season under threat. It cannot be much fun, when you are widely acknowledged as one of the best goalkeepers in the Premiership, suddenly realising you are going to have to fight for your first-team place.

But Cudicini has been there before and, in public at least, is as cool as you like about the imminent arrival at Stamford Bridge of the £8.5m signing Petr Cech, fresh from Euro 2004 when he and his Czech Republic colleagues made so many friends with their refreshing approach.

Cudicini has known since January, when the Cech deal was completed, that he would have a job on his hands holding on to the jersey when the new season gets under way in just over a month. But if the Italian, who has become a cult figure among the Chelsea fans, feels in any way resentful, he certainly avoids showing it.

"He's a good keeper with a bright future," said Cudicini, who spent virtually the whole of Euro 2004 in the United States and hardly watched a game. "But I haven't got a problem because the club has to look forward. In that respect, I honestly think they've done the right thing."

That does not mean, however, that the Italian will be prepared to sit on the bench for large parts of the season. "No one wants that but I'm used to the competition. The first season I was here, it was like that with Ed de Goey. Then I had it with Mark Bosnich. It's useless to think about what might happen now. I'm just paid to play. What's important is that I'm ready to fight for the position and show the manager my qualities on the pitch. Then he can decide who to pick."

Yet this is surely a new level of competition since Cudicini is now the undisputed No 1 among a seemingly endless supply of keepers still under contract at Stamford Bridge. Cech has already been quoted as saying, for instance, that he is not coming to London to play second fiddle to any of them.

"I'm quite calm about that," he said. Even if he ends up alternating with Cech for Premiership and Champions' League games? "I'm not sure that would happen," he said. "Maybe for competitions like the Carling Cup but not the bigger competitions. Personally, I'd be perfectly happy to play in every major game."

He knows that will not happen. Mourinho has not yet told him whether or not he will start the new season but Roman Abramovich has surely not spent £8.5m on a new goalkeeper merely for him to play a peripheral role. Cudicini, by contrast, cost a mere £160,000 when he arrived five years ago but his response to the comparison is forthright.

"Money doesn't automatically mean you are playing," he said. "Someone can cost £8m, £9m or £10m, but that doesn't necessarily guarantee a place. This really doesn't bother me.

"The challenge is on the pitch, not in the contract. I know I made one or two mistakes last season but that's no different to any other time during my career. As a goalkeeper you must always look forward. If I'm on the bench, I'll have to accept it, maybe talk to the manager and see what will happen."

Would he leave under such circumstances? That, clearly, would be the last resort. "I love Chelsea and I expect to stay until the end of my contract in 2008. This is my desire and I just hope the club think the same way."

Comments