GK Rivalries - Cech v Cudicini
Premier League and EFL clubs are slumming in it in the changing rooms of your local non-league team, some embarking on nonsensical tournaments in far away lands (the sort you would mock up on PES 5) and Liverpool fans are bursting to inform you at every given opportunity that it is indeed ‘their year’. Yes, we are now deeply entrenched in the bizarre world of pre-season.
Whilst a time of excitement, for some it is filled with dread (namely Newcastle United supporters). For number ones across the world, they spend the next two months looking over their shoulder in fear of their club bringing in a superstar goalkeeper to pry the top spot away from them.
This week’s Goalkeeping Rivalries will look back on the arrival of one of the most iconic goalkeepers in Premier League history and another very talented stopper being consigned to a perpetual seat on the subs bench.
It all started summer of 2004 at Stamford Bridge, where unhappy with an unprecedented 2ndplace finish the season before, Roman Abramovich rung the changes yet again at Chelsea, replacing Claudio Ranieri with Jose Mourinho and an influx of big name signings including; Claude Makelele, Arjen Robben and Didier Drogba.
Also strengthened was the goalkeeping department with Carlo Cudicini, who had to that point been very impressive in a Chelsea shirt, deemed not at the level required to launch the team into world-beater status.
After a transfer tug-of-war with Rennes the previous January and an impressive Euro 2004 with Czech Republic, Chelsea finally signed Petr Cech for £7 million pounds from the French side.
Cudicini anticipated a fight for the number one spot, but an elbow injury allowed Cech to swoop in and kept the gloves for all but the final three games of the Premier League season, meaning the Italian did not qualify for a league winner’s medal in the 2004/05 season. However, he did play in most of Chelsea’s domestic cup competitions but was denied a starting place in the League Cup final (where they beat Liverpool on penalties) after a sending off in the FA Cup, symbolic of Cudicini’s bitter-sweet campaign.
It was much the same in the following season, where Cudicini played just four times, however in a substantial amount of games in cup competitions and in Europe, where he saved 6 of the 12 penalties he had faced whilst between the sticks that season.
2006/07 would be the precedent for a two-year spell where the Milan born stopper would play the most football since the pre-Mourinho years, ironically in the Portuguese boss’ final full season at the helm.
However, both first choice keepers were met with rotten luck, where in the same game against Reading in October, Cech and Cudcini were stretchered off respectively, meaning John Terry would wear the gloves for the final minutes of the game.
Cech was knocked unconscious in a collision with Steven Hunt in a terrifying incident which would leave the Czech international thankful that the damage was not more permanent. However, until his retirement at the end of the 2018/29 season, he still donned the protective headgear that he was required to wear upon his return in January 2007.
Cudicini came off the bench in that Reading game to only be carried off in frightfully similar circumstances to his teammate an hour before, left unconscious after a goalmouth collision with Reading defender, Ibrahima Sonko.
It seemed the Italian’s fortune was not forthcoming as third choice ‘keeper Hilario pulled off some surprisingly solid performances in his and Cech’s absence and Cudicini found it rather difficult to dislodge, until he was handed the gloves in a League Cup game against Aston Villa.
Cech’s recovery however was astonishingly quick and after returning to the side against Liverpool in January, he kept both Hilario and Cudicini at bay.
The next season would be Cudicini’s last full season at The Bridge and fittingly had a lengthy run in the starting eleven as Chelsea qualified for the Champions League for the sixth consecutive campaign.
A string of injuries to Cech starting during a Champions League encounter with Schalke, meant that the 2001/02 Chelsea Player of the Season would bring back old times, featuring in nineteen games in the 2007/08 season.
The next season though, would be a normal service resumed and his hatted counterpart would start all of Chelsea’s Premier League games. Cudicini then left for London-rivals Spurs in January 2009 where he would have to face stiff competition again, in the form of Heurelho Gomes.