For Petr's sake, let's play safe

Miklosko appeals to outfield players to honour the rules after his friend's horrific injury
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The Independent Football

Ludek Miklosko has watched the incident "maybe 20 times" and replayed it in his head on many, many more occasions. The horrific collision in which his friend Petr Cech suffered the fracture to his skull last weekend against Reading has left him still in a state of some shock.

"I went to see him on Wednesday in hospital," Miklosko says of the Chelsea goalkeeper. "It was not pleasant. He was being quite brave. There was a big horseshoe-shaped thing around his head. You could see where they had operated on him and he was still a little bit in shock as to what had happened and why.

"And I think it will take a long time to answer that question. My answer is that it's only because some people are not doing their jobs properly and staying within the rules which are in football."

Cech is 24 years old, the same age as Miklosko's son Martin. Although Miklosko is able to look at the incident in a cool, analytical way - and is able to dismiss suggestions that goalkeepers should wear some kind of head protection, or that there should be a change in the rules - there is also a clear parental feeling.

"I would ask everyone, please, if they have a chance to look at it from the camera from behind," Miklosko explains of the challenge by Reading's Stephen Hunt. "Ten times look at it, close your eyes, put your hand on your heart and think: 'If this was my son and I'd sent him on the pitch to play football and that happened to him', and then ask the question: 'Could the other player have avoided the collision?' I'm 100 per cent sure everyone would say: 'Yes, he could'."

Indeed Miklosko, the goalkeeping coach at West Ham United following a highly successful 20-year career between the posts, is bewildered at the lack of action taken by the Football Association last week, and by referee Mike Riley on the night. "It was a late tackle," he says. "He [Hunt] had enough time to avoid him. I think it was because he was challenging a goalkeeper. He wanted to make contact, maybe he thought Petr would drop the ball or he would win a penalty. I don't think he was trying to do what he did. Definitely not. But he wanted to show him he was there.

"I'm absolutely sure that if Petr Cech, instead of going in with his hands, if he decides to kick the ball away I can guarantee that the other player would have jumped over him and there would have been no contact. I can guarantee it."

It should take at least three months for Cech to heal physically. After that, no one is really sure when he will be able to deal with the mental scars and return to first-team football. "It won't be easy to come back," Miklosko says. "I spoke to a friend of mine, a doctor, who has worked with people who have been in car crashes and after that they will never sit in a car again. Petr is going to have to deal with something similar, but he's a strong person and will come back."

Cech is, Miklosko says, "very, very mature" for his age and is also "the best goalkeeper in the world in my opinion". It is an opinion worth noting. Miklosko has tracked Cech's career since he was 18 and playing for Sparta Prague - the same age that Miklosko was when he broke into first-team football, with the Czech side Banik Ostrava in the 1980s. Indeed, at one time, there were talks about bringing Cech to West Ham, but instead he went to France, to prepare for an eventual move to the Premiership.

Miklosko, now 44, moved to England and to West Ham in 1990 and, in eight years, went on to make 375 appearances - the highest total at the club for a foreign player. There were also 41 caps for the then Czechoslovakia, making his international debut at 19, only a year after playing his first professional game, before eventually moving to Queen's Park Rangers for three seasons and retiring in 2001. He was delighted to return to Upton Park and join the coaching staff. "West Ham is my home, a fantastic club, my life," Miklosko says. The appreciation, given the way he is cherished by the supporters, appears mutual.

At 6ft 4in and powerfully built, he was also a goalkeeper who relished the physical challenge. "I was always fine with it," he says. "Football is a man's game. If it's a 50-50 ball then why shouldn't a player go for it? All I ask is that the rules are taken as they should be. I think goalkeepers should be challenged. But don't look at them as 'he's a keeper, we can touch him, jump, make late tackles', because I'm absolutely sure that the challenges that were made on [Carlo] Cudicini and Cech, if they were made on outfield players, the other player would have been sent off." He dismisses the notion that goalkeepers are in some way "over-protected" and indeed argues that it should be the outfield players, who suffer more injuries, who may have to think about body armour.

There are also, of course, West Ham's own travails to worry about. Today they travel to Tottenham Hotspur and, with a run of six consecutive defeats, includ-ing four in the Premiership, know they have to arrest the slide, although Miklosko remains confident and insists no one is panicking. "We will start winning games, I'm sure of that," he says.

West Ham will make a change in goal, with Robert Green awarded his debut in place of Roy Carroll, whose form has suffered. "Sometimes it's not easy for the goalkeeper," Miklosko says. "I remember a season when I was playing and we couldn't score. It felt that if I conceded we'd lose. It's not easy, mentally. You're thinking: 'Please don't concede'. The keeper needs to be mentally strong. It's not easy to go out in front of 40, 50, 60,000 people and make a mistake and then three days later go in front of them and try to prove you are OK. It's not easy, but goalkeepers are strong men." As his friend Petr Cech is now proving.