Rennes might be forgiven for pondering they’d seen the final of Petr Cech. The legendary goalkeeper’s announcement in January 2019 that he would retire on the finish of that season turned Arsenal‘s deep Europa League run into a private farewell tour that took him again to the place all of it started for a round-of-16 first-leg tie at Roazhon Park in March.
Cech had impressed in his native Czech Republic with Chmel Blsany and Sparta Prague early in his profession, but it surely was his two years with Rennes between 2002 and 2004 that piqued the curiosity of Europe’s prime golf equipment — finally incomes him a £7 million transfer to Chelsea aged simply 21.
Whereas he grew to become acknowledged as the very best on this planet throughout 494 appearances in an 11-year spell at Stamford Bridge — profitable 4 Premier League titles, 4 FA Cups, one Champions League and one Europe League — earlier than including one other FA Cup in a four-year spell at Arsenal, the goalkeeper’s impression at Rennes in these early life was comparatively transient, but profound.
On Cech’s return to the membership in 2019 with Arsenal, 14 years and 288 days after his final look there, French publication Ouest-France ran a bit with the headline: “Petr Cech, the return of a legend.”
In the long run it was a bittersweet night time for the 36-year-old. Cech was warmly obtained on a bitterly chilly night in northwest France, however the Gunners had been crushed 3-1 and left with a mountain to climb within the tie. But Arsenal managed to beat Rennes 3-0 within the second leg again in London to seal a 4-3 mixture win and, after seeing off Napoli and Valencia, arrange a Europa League closing in opposition to … Chelsea.
It was the right probability for the goalkeeper to bow out with a trophy in what all people thought was his closing sport as an expert, however the Blues ran out simple 4-1 winners. Regardless of a number of provides to maintain taking part in, inside a month of his retirement, Cech was again at Stamford Bridge as technical and efficiency advisor and now, aged 38, he is even been registered for Chelsea’s Premier League squad amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
On Wednesday night, Rennes will renew their acquaintance with Cech, this time within the Champions League. He cannot play, as he wasn’t registered for Europe, however he’ll be watching on with curiosity as Rennes come up in opposition to one other of their former goalkeepers, Edouard Mendy, who was prised away this summer time to assist head coach Frank Lampard rectify Chelsea’s goalkeeping points.
Removed from disappearing into the shadows, Cech’s affect stays firmly pronounced and there’s no clearer signal than the arrival of Mendy.
5 years in the past, Mendy was 23 and unable to win himself a contract even in England’s League One. In reality, he was on the verge of giving up on his dream of turning into an expert footballer. A 3-year spell at Reims from 2016 to 2019 — the place he helped them achieve promotion to Ligue 1 — obtained him again on monitor and Rennes got here calling with a €4m transfer final summer time. However he was on Cech’s radar lengthy earlier than that.
“I have been following him for three-and-a-half years, when he was at Reims,” Cech informed L’Equipe not too long ago. “Initially, it was [Chelsea’s head of goalkeeping] Christophe Lollichon who informed me about him, as a result of he had been unemployed.”
Mendy has an extended strategy to go to emulate Cech’s impression at Chelsea given the latter gained 13 trophies in 11 years. But the Senegal worldwide may hardly have made a greater begin, retaining 5 successive clear sheets and turning into the primary Chelsea goalkeeper since Cech to open his league profession with three consecutive shutouts.
Mendy has changed the error-prone Kepa Arrizabalaga and led to a relaxed that has contributed to a promising set of outcomes at residence and overseas, with two of his clear sheets serving to Chelsea amass 4 factors from their opening two Champions League video games in Group E.
Rennes, who’ve earned only a solitary level after drawing with Krasnodar and shedding to Sevilla, will goal to change into solely the second workforce after Tottenham within the Carabao Cup to discover a well past Mendy since his £20m transfer on the finish of September.
It was a deal that Cech had his fingerprints on virtually from the outset, but it surely additionally owes a lot to the connection he solid years in the past at Rennes with Lollichon. Cech didn’t work with Lollichon right away upon becoming a member of Rennes as a spiky-haired 20-year-old, however the pair shortly shaped a detailed bond.
“We felt each time we noticed one another that there was a connection,” Lollichon was quoted as saying final yr within the French media. “Shortly, he expressed the want that I joined him to change into his private coach.”
Cech had already set a Czech league file by not conceding a objective for 903 minutes throughout his time at Sparta Prague, however he knew there was loads of enchancment required to succeed in the heights he aspired to. He was impressed by Lollichon’s modern coaching strategies, which included classes with different-sized balls to encourage better hand-eye coordination, and increasing peripheral imaginative and prescient by holding up a card as a ball is being thrown and asking the goalkeeper to shout the color of the cardboard as he makes a save.
Cech went on to maintain 27 clear sheets in 78 matches for Rennes — no imply feat for a workforce battling to remain in Ligue 1, which they had been on the time — attracting admirers together with then-Manchester United boss Sir Alex Ferguson, who made a private journey to observe him in opposition to Auxerre in March 2003 earlier than Chelsea agreed a £7m deal a yr later.
Sources informed ESPN that Lollichon had been flagging Mendy’s progress for months earlier than Chelsea made formal contact. Lollichon continues to get pleasure from a detailed working relationship with Cech and, in his function as technical advisor, Cech really helpful Mendy to Lampard as a signing to supply better competitors for Kepa, who has struggled for consistency since his £71.4m transfer from Athletic Bilbao in August 2018 — a price that continues to be a world file for a goalkeeper.
Cech’s off-field function is a busy one, but it surely has not prevented him from engaged on the coaching pitches at Cobham with the first-team goalkeepers and even persevering with a excessive stage of non-public health regardless of hanging up his gloves. Sources at Chelsea’s coaching base describe witnessing common examples of Cech’s enduring abilities — one supply informed ESPN that they seen how Cech’s efficiency stats had been nonetheless “ridiculous,” which strengthened the concept of registering him — though it was nonetheless a serious shock when he was added to the membership’s 25-man Premier League squad final month as “emergency cowl.”
Sarcastically, Cech is sort of eight months youthful than 39-year-old Willy Caballero, Chelsea’s different backup goalkeeper, and his home inclusion was an indication Lampard is satisfied his former teammate continues to be able to acting on the pitch.
“It is true that it will have been an expert error to do that if I wasn’t at Premier League stage, however that is not the way in which we work right here,” Cech informed Telefoot on Monday. “I do know I am 100% prepared to assist if want be. I am match, and with the 2 months of coaching, I’ve seen I’ve the identical high quality.
“Moreover, I rested for a yr with out taking part in soccer. It actually gave me power, my physique recovered after taking part in 20 years as an expert. If the circumstances put me on the pitch, I am prepared.”
Rennes will not must beat Cech on the pitch on Wednesday, however his impression off it in serving to to signal Mendy will be sure that the Blues have the higher hand as they appear to construct on their positive defensive turnaround.