Cech: Quadruple quest 'just amazing'
Last October, the career of Chelsea's Czech international goalkeeper Petr Cech appeared to hang in the balance. A collision with Reading's Stephen Hunt in a Premiership encounter rendered him unconscious and left the 24-year-old with a cracked skull.
Yet, incredibly, he defied the medics with a speedy return to fitness and, now kitted out with state-of-the art protective headgear, has firmly re-established himself as the English champions' No1 as they go in pursuit of a remarkable four trophies. Having already bagged the League Cup , the Blues now look forward to an all-English UEFA Champions League semi-final against Liverpool, and an FA Cup Final against their rivals for their Premiership, Manchester United.
Speaking exclusively to FIFA.com, Cech looks ahead to those contests, reveals what being able to play his part in this season's campaign has meant to him, and explains why Chelsea have it in them to do the quadruple.
FIFA.com: Petr, after what you have been through personally with that terrible injury, how much has it meant to be able to enjoy such a successful season at Chelsea?
Petr Cech: It's been a landmark season for me. I started well, but then came the injury. I'm just really happy that the recovery went so well and I got back so quickly. The rest of the season has just been a bonus for me and I'm enjoying it very much.
Given the injuries that the team has had this season, it seems a remarkable feat that Chelsea have one won trophy and are still in the hunt for three more.
This shows just how strong this current Chelsea side is. Things have not gone our way all the time, but we're still in the run for the quadruple. And that's just amazing.
Do you feel that the current Chelsea squad is the best equipped side to win the Champions League since you have been at the club? If so, why?
We certainly have a good chance of success this year. I think the crucial factor for our ability to be successful is that we have more experience behind us now. We've already been to the semi-finals of the Champions League once before. We know what to expect. The team is mature, and that can be our advantage. It was that experience that proved to be vital in our win against Valencia .
You are still in with a chance of winning a third Premiership title in a row - a feat only ever achieved by your current rivals, Manchester United. How much would it mean to do that?
Of course that's something that we'd love to achieve. But it won't be easy at all. It seems that our run in is more difficult than Manchester United's. From now on, every game will be crucial, we cannot afford to lose points in any game. If we do, we'll be out of the race. On the other hand, Manchester United are also under pressure. We're glad that we have a game against them ahead of us. It would be great if we were no more than three points down before that match. In fact, we have to make up more than the three point difference in the remaining games because United have a better goal difference than we do, and that could turn out to be crucial if we both finish with the same amount of points. But anything can happen in the Premiership.
Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho recently described you as "extra special". It must have been nice to receive such a compliment from the 'special one' himself?
It's always a special feeling to hear praise from the coach. I was pleased about his words and I'm working hard to carry on living up to his expectations in the coming games. We will all have to be 'extra special' if we are going to make sure this season ends successfully.
And just how 'special' is Jose Mourinho?
Our game and our results are based on his work and tactics. He must take a big share of the credit for our success. He's a great manager, there's no question about that.
Moving on to the Czech national team, you have had to endure some troubled times of late, with the squad coming in for criticism regarding the late-night partying of some of the players after a recent UEFA EURO 2008 qualifier. How much did that affect morale in the camp?
It was not a pleasant affair. The atmosphere inside the team was okay, but the pressures coming from outside were big. We all are glad that it's over.
There was recently a suggestion that you might become captain of the national team. Was there any truth in that?
No, that's not something I think about. Tomas Rosicky was voted the captain before the season and he's been supported by the team. There's no reason that he gives up his captaincy.
With Rosicky now at Arsenal, he is both a neighbour and a Premiership rival. Are the two of you close? And do you get much of a chance to meet up in London?
Yes, we played together at Sparta (Prague) and also, of course, for the national team. We get along quite well. But we're both pretty busy, so we don't get to spend too much time together. Though when we do meet up, we always have plenty to talk about.
Are you confident that the team is in good shape to qualify for EURO 2008 at this stage?
We can still qualify. The Germans are now in a better position than us, but we are second in the group, and qualification is still fully in our own hands.
Now that Pavel Nedved has finally retired, has the team been missing him? He must be a very difficult player to replace.
Well, players like Nedved are almost irreplaceable. But there's no point speculating about his absence. Pavel is gone and we have to accept the fact. I think we have already proven that we can succeed, even without him.