The Czech Republic goalkeeper saved a penalty in extra time against Bayern Munich and two more spot-kicks as the Blues triumphed after a shoot-out and booked their place at the FIFA Club World Cup.
Japan 2012 and more was on the agenda as FIFA.com met the 30-year-old, who also discussed how the London club has changed since his arrival and selected the shot-stoppers he rates from around the world.
How much are you looking forward to the FIFA Club World Cup?
I’m looking forward to it – it’s a competition I’ve never had a chance to play. Not many people can say ‘I won the Club World Cup’, the special competition of the Champions League winners. That’s something you would like to achieve so I’m looking forward to the tournament and I hope, after having missed out on the Super Cup, it will be a trophy we win.
Is it a new and different challenge for yourself and Chelsea?
We have nobody with that experience, it will be a new thing for all of us. But I think we have experienced players in the team – the guys from Spain have won the World Cup, the European Championship and Champions League. So with all this experience we will handle the situation. It will be a new tournament for us, we will face a different style with the team from South America. So let’s see what’s going to happen.
You’ve been here for a lot of Chelsea’s near misses in the Champions League. How much did it mean to the club to finally win the trophy?
It puts the club in a different dimension because everybody was saying we are a great club having won all the domestic trophies – FA Cups, League Cups – but this is the one thing everybody kept reminding us about, not the Champions League. We wanted to make sure that we got it one day. If you keep reaching the semi-finals, and we were unlucky in Moscow [in the 2008 final against Manchester United] to have lost the game, then you believe that one day it will come. It came in the year where I think everybody outside expected it the least, but we believed we had a good campaign.
There were things happening during the campaign where we were almost out three times and we always came back. You could see the spirit and everything went right in the Champions League, not in the league. That’s when we believed that it could be the year.
How much has the club changed during your time?
I think the expectation has changed, the way the club is seen has changed. The first year I came, the club had never won the Premier League. A new manager, Jose Mourinho, arrived and everybody was saying ‘OK, if you have a good year and finish in the Champions League spots, it will be a good start’. He came with the mentality of ‘No, I don’t want a good start, I want to win the league’. Suddenly we got a team together and we started really doing well and we won back-to-back titles. I think that was where the club changed, because suddenly you are not a challenger – you already won the league and you just want to make sure you stay there, on the top. We’ve stayed on the top – that is the hardest challenge.
You may achieve winning the league once and maybe it disappears, but that is not the case. We wanted to win the league and we wanted to stay there, among the top two teams in England, challenging for the trophy every year. We’ve been challenging Manchester United all those years I’ve been here. Sometimes we didn’t win, but we’ve been there all the time – in the Champions League spots, doing well, reaching the semi-finals of the Champions League and playing great matches. It was a matter of time if we managed to win the Champions League. It took eight years, which is a long time, but in those eight years we’ve been unlucky a lot of times as well.
Were you surprised at how quickly things changed last season?
We started the season and the league suddenly started not happening for us, and we had to really fight hard in the Champions League to make the season better. We won the game against Valencia at home, we were under a lot of pressure and we managed to go through with a very good game, we believed it could be. But unfortunately the first leg of the Napoli game away changed a lot of things, because Andre [Villas-Boas] was sacked and Roberto [Di Matteo] took over. We started a positive run of results in the domestic cup and the league, and that was brought into the home leg against Napoli. That’s when you realise, when you come back after such a difficult situation, the team is strong enough to cope with the pressure and go far. We showed that against Barcelona, we showed that in the final, we showed a great change of character in those games.
A lot of people say there is luck involved, but I don’t believe in luck because you need to play 13 games to win the Champions League. You cannot say that it was luck in every game, you’re never lucky in every game. You have to fight hard, you have to defend well, you have to be organised. If you are down to ten men in Barcelona for 60 minutes, then you need to really know what you’re doing. We managed to do that so I don’t believe that’s luck.
Do you think you’re entering the peak of your career now?
A lot of people say that around 30 the goalkeeper starts being matured and enjoys this time of their career. Certainly I feel that. I’ve been feeling that all the time, but I’m glad I’ve reached 30 years of age and I still enjoy what I’m doing. I’m really enjoying football, maybe a reflection of that can be seen in the games as well.
Which goalkeepers do you rate in the Premier League and the world?
It’s always hard to choose. If people want to pick one goalkeeper, it’s almost impossible, because everybody plays in a different league. It’s very hard to pick, but what you look for is a consistency and the impact that the goalkeeper has for the team. For sure you have Casillas, Neuer and Buffon still there – they are a really big influence on the team. I think Joe Hart is getting there in the last few years. He is in the Champions League and No1 for England, helping a lot. He was important for Manchester City last season in winning the league, and you can see he kept his level of performance. This is the way you can judge the keepers and these guys have been there for years and doing really well.