Such are the never-ending amount of variables that Chelsea seem to produce as a football club, it’s often difficult to place your finger on anything resembling a constant. But in Petr Cech, not only do the Blues possess one of the finest goalkeepers in the league, they also lay claim to an unwavering pillar of consistency – both on the pitch as well as away from it.
Indeed, it’s often easy to forget quite how long the big Czech goalkeeper has been kicking around at Stamford Bridge, which in itself, serves as a glowing testament to the sustained quality of his goalkeeping. Now in his ninth season in West London, this term has seen former Rennes man break through the 400-appearance barrier for the Blues. As a footnote, it’s worth bearing in mind that Cech will be celebrating what is only his 31st birthday next month.
He’s commandeered Chelsea to three Premier League titles, played a pivotal part in their famous Champions League triumph and recently made a save of such quality in the FA Cup, it’s led many observers to deem it the best stop in the competition since Jim Montgomery’s in 1973. And ominously for his opponents, the man himself believes he’s now a far superior ‘keeper to the one he was five years ago.
Yet despite looking like returning to the imperious sort of form that we last saw during Chelsea’s title win of 2010, it seems somewhat remarkable that Cech’s future at the club remains far from clear cut at the end of this term.
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The shadow of the Blues’ outstanding young Belgian goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois has managed to cast a strange air of uncertainty over Chelsea’s long term number one – despite the fact the 20-year-old has yet to make a single appearance at Stamford Bridge.
Currently enjoying his second season long loan at Atletico Madrid, Courtois has racked up an impressive 18 clean sheets in 29 games at the Vicente Calderon and despite his fledgling years, already finds himself touted as one of the best young goalkeepers on the continent. And while another loan move, potentially to a Premier League club next season, has already been mooted, there are some at Stamford Bridge who believe he should be returning to dislodge Cech as the number one at his parent club next season.
Although for all the quality and potential that Courtois may possess, is now really the time to try and coax him into first team proceedings at Stamford Bridge?
Such has been the startling progress that Courtois has made out in La Liga over the past 18 months, it’s been all too easy to get swept away in the ever-growing wave of hype that the Belgian is currently riding. He’s an undeniably spectacular shot-stopper with all the attributes needed to succeed on the highest level and such has been the box-office calibre of his performances for Diego Simeone’s side, that the bread-and-butter consistency which Cech has to offer has felt somewhat devalued by the Belgian’s stardust.
Although it’s a foolish man that underrates the almost patented level of consistency that Cech sustains and it’s important that those at Stamford Bridge don’t look to instigate change, simply for the sake of it. As good as Courtois may become and to some extent, already is, he’s not ready to dispose of the 30-year-old between the sticks in West London.
Petr Cech’s awe-inspiring stop against Manchester United served as a timely reminder to a pallet of goalkeeping gifts that are very rarely given the credit that they perhaps deserve.
Observers are often eager to crucify the Czech international when the performances have been lacking, but when the shoe has been on the other foot in recent times, rarely has the praise been anywhere near in proportion to the critique. Indeed, there is a lingering feeling amongst some that the Petr Cech of 2013 isn’t quite the beast he once was in between the sticks.
A fair observation? In some ways, yes. At his very best under Jose Mourinho, Cech had an air of invincibility that few goalkeepers will ever manage to attain in their entire careers, let alone for a sustained period of time and despite his age, it’s still difficult to see him managing to repeat the trick once more. But even so, Cech remains one of the best goalkeepers in this league and if some don’t appreciate him now, they’ll most certainly miss him when he’s gone.
Courtois’ two years in La Liga hardly constitute an inferior level of football, but it’s within the fate of the man he came into initially replace at Madrid, that you get an idea as to why it’s necessary to ease the hype machine surrounding the 2-year-old.
David de Gea may now be firing on all cylinders for Manchester United, but his adaptation to Premier League football has been an incredibly rough ride indeed and it was a journey that could well have come to a premature end, such was the gargantuan pressure and expectation he was under following his move to United from Atletico Madrid.
Before Courtois can challenge for Cech’s place, he must first at least serve a Premier League apprenticeship away from the circus act of Stamford Bridge. At only 20-years-old, regardless of the talent that he’s already shown, there’s no real rush to integrate him into the first team at Chelsea and to do at the expense of such a brilliant and experienced goalkeeper, would be nothing short of absolute folly.
Thibaut Courtois is surely destined for a long and fruitful career at the very top of the game. But supporters shouldn’t let the hope and promise that the young Belgian has shown degrade the standing of Petr Cech.
Courtois’ time will become, but for the immediate future, there’s no need to accelerate the changing of the guard at Stamford Bridge just yet.