Invincible giant, not anymore

While no one doubts Petr Cech's shot-stopping ability, he has struggled when dealing with crosses under pressure and this is perhaps linked to the clash with Stephen Hunt. By Ben Snowball.

A big question arises when discussing Petr Cech: was he a better 'keeper before Stephen Hunt's knee collided with his skull in October 2006?

While this cannot be definitively answered, it appears that every time Cech upgrades his mask he loses another piece of his aura. The impact of being sidelined for three months, coupled with thoughts of a freak injury occurring again, could feasibly have affected the Czech Republic stopper.

Although Cech's return in early 2007 started with numerous clean sheets, a few injuries saw him in and out of the Chelsea side and slowly mistakes — not many, but enough — crept into his game. Gone are the days when the UEFA's Best Goalkeeper for 2005 could keep oppositions at bay for a then English Premier League record of 1,025 minutes.

He started out at Czech side FK Chmel Blsany before taking the short journey east to join Sparta Prague where he made 27 appearances. His first taste of international success came in 2002 at the Under-21 European Championship in Switzerland as he helped the Czech Republic to victory over France, letting in just one spot-kick during the penalty shootout.

That performance was enough for French side Rennes to move for him and he played 70 times over two seasons before European's big guns came calling.

Chelsea struck a bargain GBP7 million deal and initially his performances were exemplary, helping the London club win their first EPL title in 50 years in 2004/05 and winning the Golden Gloves Award in the process.

The Blues repeated the feat the next season as they conceded just 22 league goals. Then came that fateful EPL match between Reading and Chelsea in late 2006. As Cech rushed out and dived on a loose ball, Hunt's knee smashed against his head, knocking him unconscious.

Jose Mourinho, then Chelsea boss, said at the time: “The challenge is a disgrace. He is lucky to still be alive.”

Talk focused on whether Cech would play again and, although his return was fairly successful — he was instrumental in Chelsea's 2009/10 double-winning side under Carlo Ancelotti — he was no longer revered as an immovable object.

While no one doubts Cech's shot-stopping ability, he has struggled when dealing with crosses under pressure and this is perhaps linked to the clash with Hunt.

He has since worn a mask that some believe removes his air of invincibility, although Cech is adamant this is not the case. “I'm amazed people talk about my helmet — saying it makes me feel psychologically better. I would love to play without it, but I'm not allowed to by the doctor,” he said. “As long as I'm told by the doctor I'm running too much risk to play without it, I'll play with it. There's no other way for me.”

Costly errors against Wigan and Tottenham this season have suggested he is not quite the invincible giant he once was.

FACTFILE Name: Petr Cech.

His strife: Fracturing his skull at the Madjeski Stadium against Reading.

His wife: Married Martina Dolejsova in 2003.

His drive: An Audi fan, Cech has owned an R8 and a Q7.

Moment to remember: Winning the EPL and FA Cup double in 2009/10.

Moment to forget: Losing the 2008 Champions League final against Manchester United on penalties.

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