Petr Čech – one of world’s best goalkeepers

Petr Čech

Czech footballer Petr Čech, considered one of the best goalkeepers of the modern era, was born in the west Bohemian city of Plzeň. His journey to the top of the football world is a fascinating story of determination and talent. He launched his career at the local club Viktoria Plzeň and worked his way up through Chmel Blšany, Sparta Prague and Rennes in France all the way to London’s legendary clubs Chelsea and Arsenal. 

Petr Čech started as a striker in the junior team of Viktoria Plzeň when he was just seven years old. Jiří Hošek, editor-in-chief of Canal Plus Sport, who has followed his career closely, explains how Čech ended up "between the sticks":

Petr Čech | Photo: Filip Jandourek,

“That’s because he suffered a very serious injury at the age of twelve: a complicated fracture in his leg. For many, this could have been a career-ending injury. Luckily, in Petr Čech’s case, the leg healed very well. But it definitely was a turning point.”

Even though he had already made the national team as a junior and shone at the European Under-16 Championship, where he was named the best goalkeeper of the tournament, Viktorka Plzeň let him move to Chmel Blšany for just CZK 350,000.

“We have to understand that, at the time, CZK 350,000 for a player of such a young age was quite a lot of money. Moreover, Viktoria Plzeň was not yet a massive, title-winning club as we know it today, and Chmel Blšany also had a completely different position back then, being part of the Czech first league. Of course, looking back at the way Petr Čech’s career evolved, the people in charge of this transfer must be tearing their hair out.”

Sparta Prague stadium on Letná | Photo: Juan Pablo Bertazza,  Radio Prague International

In 2001, Sparta already paid an unprecedented CZK 22 million for Petr Čech as a first-class goalkeeper. It was during his two-year stay at Prague’s Letná that he started to build an international reputation for himself, says Jiří Hošek:

“Thanks to Sparta, he was visible in European Cup matches, and he must have got noticed by European scouts. But the real turning point was when he won the under-21 European Championships with his teammates. That was an absolutely unique moment and Petr Čech was named goalkeeper of the tournament. That was certainly an important milestone in his career.”

After playing for the French club Rennes he came to Chelsea in 2004, where he stayed until 2015. Not that many people know that he was actually set to start in Chelsea already in 2003, says Jiří Hošek:

“He was supposed to move to Chelsea a year earlier, but at the time the Czech Republic was not yet a member of the European Union and the British authorities did not grant Čech a work permit. So he couldn't go straight to Chelsea, but instead spent the year in Rennes.”

Petr Čech | Photo: Filip Jandourek,  Czech Radio

Already during his first season in the famous London club, Petr Čech made a significant contribution to their victory in the Premier League. Among other things, he set a new record for the number of minutes without a goal scored: an incredible 1,025! Jiří Hošek again:

“Again, it was remarkable that Petr Čech, even though Chelsea had another very accomplished goalkeeper, immediately became their number one. He was simply an exceptional player, he was exceptionally professional in his approach and from the first moment he showed everyone that he simply had it in him.

“On top of that, Chelsea, which was owned by the Russian Oligarch, put together an incredibly strong squad that started to dominate British football in the years following Petr Čech’s arrival.”

According to Jiří Hošek, one of the key moments in Petr Čech’s career that made him a legend was the Euro 2004:

“That was really the moment when Petr Čech’s interventions went viral, as we would say today. It was the match in the group stage against the Netherlands when the Czech team was losing 0-2 in the first half. In that memorable match they eventually won 3-2. It was also thanks to Petr Čech, because he caught several clear goals from the Dutch. So that was the moment when I think he became an international star during just one evening in Portugal at the 2004 European Championship.”

During the 2006/2007 season, Petr Čech was plagued by injuries, including a life-threatening incident which happened during a match between Chelsea and Reading. Diving to make a save at the feet of Reading's Stephen Hunt, Čech took a blow to the head that fractured his skull.

Petr Čech | Photo: Amir Hosseini,  Wikimedia Commons,  CC BY 4.0 DEED

“The commentators of that game had a tendency to downplay the injury, but it became clear later that evening and the following morning that his life was hanging on a thread. If he hadn't received first-class medical treatment, it could have been really serious.”

Petr Čech then made an incredibly quick comeback, and for the rest of his career, he wore a special a helmet, which became his signature item. However, wearing the protective headgear was uncomfortable because it impaired his senses, explains Mr. Hošek:

“When I spoke to Petr Čech about it, he explained that it was a huge handicap for him, but doctors advised him not to play without it. He said that when he was catching high balls, the helmet reduced his spatial orientation by 10 to 15 percent. So it's admirable that he came back and stayed at that world-class level even with that huge handicap.”

Petr Čech, who also played for London’s Arsenal, is one of the most successful goalkeepers in the history of England’s Premier League. He notched up 202 clean sheets during his 15 years in the competition, most of them with Chelsea. In his first season with the London club in 2004/2005, he achieved 24 shutouts, a record that has not been equalled since.

While playing for Chelsea, Petr Čech was of course a member of the Czech national team, for which he played an incredible 124 games, a record that will be very hard for any other Czech player to beat. In 2023, Čech was inducted into the Premier League’s Hall of Fame and he was also voted Czechia’s Footballer of the Year nine times. He was also voted UEFA’s best goalkeeper of the year.

Petr Čech is not just one the world’s best goalkeepers. He also loves hockey and recently made his debut in the British Ice Hockey League, when he joined ice hockey champions Belfast Giants on loan from Oxford City Stars as temporary emergency cover. He is also an amateur drummer and is involved in charity, focusing on helping children from socially disadvantaged families gain access to sport.

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