Still only 30 years of age, Petr Cech has won every title going during his time with Chelsea. Ranked among the finest goalkeepers in the world, he has collected medal after medal since joining in 2004 and last season reached new heights when he helped the London club end their long wait for UEFA Champions League glory. That dramatic success has galvanised the Blues and they have made an excellent start to the current campaign, which they hope to end by defending their European crown and returning to the Premier League summit.
Equally effective between the posts for the Czech Republic, Cech is also keen for his national side to build on their encouraging displays at UEFA EURO 2012 as they look to the future, starting with their bid to qualify for the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™.
The talented custodian sat down with FIFA.com to discuss those challenges with club and country as the new season continues to unfold.
FIFA.com: What are your thoughts on Chelsea's season so far?
Petr Cech: I think it's not been too bad! It's good to start by taking points right from the off, especially as we've also not conceded in most of our games. That shows we have a good defensive cohesion and that's obviously very pleasing for me as the goalkeeper. What's a shame is that we were totally outplayed in the European Super Cup game in Monaco. We have a team that was built to win trophies and we weren't able to do that against Atletico Madrid, who deserved their victory.
Staying on the subject of European football, how would you judge Chelsea's start in the UEFA Champions League?
I'm disappointed that we started with a draw at home against Juventus, especially after leading 2-0. We should have controlled the second half better and made sure of the win. But there were still plenty of positives and we need to continue in the same fashion and win as many points as possible to finish top of our group, before going on from there.
What do you think Chelsea's main strengths are this season?
We have a different team with lots of new recruits. As players, they're more technically gifted than physical. Because of that, our style has evolved and we're trying to bring more dynamism to our attacking moves thanks to the talented players we have further forward. So far, Eden Hazard's arrival has done us a lot of good. He's quickly built an understanding with the players around him, like Juan Mata and Oscar, and it's really pleasing to see a player come in from another league and adapt so quickly.
Oscar looks to have adapted quickly as well after his double against Juventus. Have those two players surprised you?
They're both young players with lots of ambition who've already got quite a bit of experience despite their age. And, in general, you tend to adapt better when you're younger. They go out onto the pitch to enjoy themselves and give pleasure to those around them. Eden's continuing to do what he was already doing for a few years in France. As for Oscar, I'm very happy for him because it's not easy to just show up here from Brazil, where the championship is completely different. Plus he's very young. His double showed that he fully deserves his place here and it'll give him lots of confidence for the future.
Is it also a sign of Chelsea's rude health that your new recruits have been able to make themselves at home so quickly?
Yes, that's true. But Chelsea have had a very united squad for a long time, and during that time the newcomers have immediately felt like they belonged. Everyone's well aware that the team is more important than individuals, and the new players are always made very welcome. I've been here for more than eight years and I've hardly ever seen players who thought life was tough here, and who couldn't adapt because of that. Quite the contrary.
With all the usual suspects having made strong starts, are you expecting a very open Premier League title race?
I think this season will be very close and an exciting one for the supporters. Lots of teams have strengthened. Manchester United have started well and will be involved in the title race, as will Manchester City FC, who want to defend their crown, while we'll be right back up there. There's Arsenal too, who are playing well and scoring goals while looking solid at the back. If they continue like that, they'll be very dangerous. Then there are other teams who want to play well and get a European place. In my opinion, it looks as if it'll be as exciting as last season, when we didn't know right up until the end who'd win the title and who'd be relegated. It's going to be very interesting again this year.
Has winning the Champions League given Chelsea even more mental strength?
It gave us a huge amount of pleasure and a lot more peace of mind, because it was a trophy that the club were trying to win for a long time. We were finally able to lift that magnificent cup and our ambition now is to defend our title. After experiencing such a fantastic feeling, we only have one aim: to experience it again.
You were one of the heroes of the final, not least when you saved Arjen Robben's penalty in extra time. Was that the highlight of your career on a personal level?
Definitely. It was a moment everyone will remember, and me more than anyone. It was one of the turning points of the final because they could have won it if they'd scored then. That save allowed us to keep hoping and to keep going until the shoot-out. And we all know what happened after that.
As you have now won every title going with Chelsea, what are your ambitions with your national team?
I won the European U-21 Championship in 2002, when we beat France in the final. I'm very proud of that and I dream of one day doing the same with the senior team. I still have a lot of regrets when I think back to the EURO semi-final we lost to Greece in 2004, because we had an exceptional side that could have gone all the way. Two generations of players have left since then and we're currently rebuilding. Given that, it was an achievement just to qualify for the most recent EURO, and it was very satisfying to reach the quarter-finals. We can think of that performance as a first step forward, with our goal being to qualify for the 2014 World Cup.
The Czech Republic drew away against Denmark in your first qualifier on the road to Brazil. Was that a good start?
It was a very good result when you look at Denmark's performances in the qualifiers for the 2010 World Cup, when they topped their group after a superb campaign, especially at home, and against big teams like Portugal. So, for us it was a very good thing ahead of two decisive home matches in which we absolutely have to take maximum points.
Given that Italy are struggling to find the form that helped them reach the final of EURO 2012, can the Czech Republic cause an upset in Group B?
Everybody knows that Italy are favourites, with Denmark the second strongest team in the group according to world ranking. We want to spring a surprise and cause an upset by knocking one of those two teams out. We're hoping to at least finish second and go through to the play-offs, but we'll do everything we can to finish top and qualify directly, even if we'll be staying realistic.
Having appeared at the 2006 FIFA World Cup, how do you see your role towards the younger players during the qualifying campaign?
I'm one of the most experienced players now because at the moment I'm the most capped member of the squad, plus I have all the experience I've gained at Chelsea, the reigning European champions. I'm there to share all that knowledge with the younger players to help them feel at ease and to show them the road to success.
In a recent interview with FIFA.com, Jaroslav Plasil praised the talent of the new generation of Czech players and said they bring a certain unpredictability and audacity to your play. Would you agree with that?
Yes, and I'd add that the players from Viktoria Plzen gained a lot of experience because of their club's good performances in the Champions League last season, and that's helped the national team a lot. Overall, our major strength is that we're a real team, very close, and we're capable of getting ourselves out of tough situations by staying united. Those are the qualities that allowed us to get past Montenegro in the play-offs and qualify for the last EURO.
At 30, you are still young for a goalkeeper. Are you aiming to continue beyond the 2014 FIFA World Cup and have you fixed yourself any sort of retirement date?
Going to Brazil, a country that lives and breathes football, would be a very special event and one I really hope to take part in. After that, I love what I do and I still enjoy it a lot. If I can carry on for five, six or seven years, I will. The only condition is that I manage to stay in good health and good form. I don't want to continue playing just because my name is Petr Cech and I've played for Chelsea for ten years.