Is the most famous Czech a sensible twenty-something sportsman?

Petr Cech

Four years after he stepped down as president, Vaclav Havel is probably still the best known living Czech statesman or politician in world terms. I sometimes think, though, that today the best known Czech of all - one admired everywhere from Africa to the Far East - has nothing to do with politics, and indeed was only seven years old at the time of the Velvet Revolution. What's more, people around the globe surely have no problem remembering the little country he comes from - after all, his surname is Cech.

The Czech international football goalkeeper Petr Cech has already achieved great things at the age of just 24 (he will be 25 on May 20, a day after he plays in England's FA Cup final). Cech is one of the biggest stars at one of the biggest clubs in the most watched league in the world. In three years at Chelsea, he has set records and cemented a reputation as the best goalie in the Premiership and very possibly the world.

Goalkeepers generally don't reach their peak until later than outfield players, when they are around 30. Cech was voted the world's best when he was still only 23, which is remarkable. He already has 51 international caps and, given that he could play for up to 15 more years, could easily set an all-time Czech caps record. I honestly believe that if he maintains his extremely high standards he could even become one of the all-time greats of football history.

Many have commented on Cech's maturity, and he certainly showed some wisdom when he left Sparta Prague in 2002 for a relatively small club, France's Rennes. That gave him his first taste of living abroad - and guaranteed him regular first team football, something he wouldn't have received so young at one of Europe's bigger clubs. He also learned French, adding to his skills in English and German.

Petr Cech is not only the most successful Czech of his generation; today, having renegotiated his original deal with Chelsea, he is said to also be the best paid Czech sportsman of all time. That's right, he earns more than Jaromir Jagr, Pavel Nedved, or any of the country's thirty-something sports stars.

But while Nedved frequently moans about Czechs being envious, Petr Cech does not seem to have experienced any kind of backlash. Indeed, he has an unusually positive public image at home, where he is seen as modest, polite, professional and sensible, neither stuck-up like some of his international team-mates, nor a blinged up playboy like others.

My favourite story about him comes from an interview he did in the Guardian newspaper. Asked what the craziest thing he had done while drunk was, Cech said, nothing. You don't drink? replied the interviewer. Yes, I do, he said, but why would I do something stupid?