The keeper on being in a coma, not watching back his greatest moment and the prospect of facing Chelsea in his final game
Petr Cech begins at the end. The hope is a playing career that has spanned two decades will extend for another fortnight, that Arsenal progress beyond Valencia and, in far-flung Baku, their veteran goalkeeper is granted a fitting finale against the club with whom he won it all. I dont know if it is a dream scenario, he says. You have your last game, a European final and, if it is against Chelsea, an emotional attachment to the opposition team. Its probably a bit too much but if it happens, it happens. Its the way it is.
There is work to be done to make that a reality, starting at Mestalla, where Unai Emerys visitors defend a 3-1 advantage from the first leg, but there would be something splendidly appropriate about Cech bringing down the curtain with a 15th winners medal after a collision with Chelsea at the Olympic stadium. After all, he had moved to Arsenal in 2015 intent upon guiding the club to European success, emulating in part what he had achieved over that glittering 11-season stint across the capital. The alternative would be slipping away on the quiet after Sundays last league game at Turf Moor. There is no choice to be made between Burnley and Baku.
Regardless of how Thursday plays out, Cech will be recognised as one of the best goalkeepers of the modern era. No one comes close to matching his 202 clean sheets in the Premier League, a tally almost a full season 33 games higher than his nearest challenger. The man plucked from Rennes in 2004 managed a staggering 228 shut-outs in 494 games at Chelsea. In his pomp, he felt unbeatable: calm, unflustered, brave and authoritative. He was among a core of senior players alongside John Terry, Frank Lampard and Didier Drogba who, regardless of the identity of the manager, drove that club to trophies for more than a decade.
At some stage, perhaps in the summer once he has taken a step back from the day-to-day grind, he will reflect on it all. Such is his urgent desire for self-improvement and success with Arsenal, the 36-year-old has not yet allowed himself the time to consider what has been achieved. Remarkably, he has never watched a rerun of his greatest moment: the European Cup final at the Allianz Arena in 2012, when six Bayern Munich players strode up to take a penalty and, on each occasion, the Chelsea goalkeeper dived the right way. The saves from Arjen Robben in extra time, then Ivica Olic and Bastian Schweinsteiger in a shootout, in effect secured the clubs first European Cup.
Ive only seen a bit of the shootout once when my son was watching it, and once when we were in a hotel with the team and a Champions League show was on the television we watched part of it then, he says. They showed the last couple of penalties. But Ive never watched the whole game, and Ive not watched the 2008 final either. A reluctance to relive that loss to Manchester United in Moscow is understandable, but Munich represented the pinnacle. But when people look back too often they lose track of the present. These are moments you watch when you stop.
During preparations for the 2012 showpiece, Cech and the goalkeeping coach, Christophe Lollichon, had studied a 160-minute DVD detailing every Bayern penalty over the previous five years to spy clues in their habits and routines, from run-ups to rhythm. Yet it still boils down to a player taking a decision under pressure out on the pitch. Schweinsteiger ran in a completely different way to all the clips Id watched. But the moment he slowed down he gave me a clue because, usually when he stopped, he shot to his right side. It was at least a little indication.
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