Will Petr Čech bow out with Europa League victory over Chelsea with Arsenal? Or will his last act be a puzzling spoken-word charity single? We’re praying for the former.
Hard work, commitment, sacrifice, pain / That’s football / We love football / That’s football / Yeah, football.
To some extent, it’s true that those five words describe football.
In many ways, however, they also describe the career of Petr Čech, the legendary Czech goalkeeper whose footballing journey has involved a great deal of hard work and commitment, not to mention an unusually high amount of sacrifice and pain.
Some players, after all, would not ‘love’ football enough to return to it after almost dying on the pitch. But Čech is not just some player: determined to put troubles behind him, he came back from a skull fracture an even better goalkeeper.
Unfortunately, ‘hard work, commitment, sacrifice, pain’ are not just five words I wrote down to describe either football the sport or Petr Čech the goalkeeper. Rather, they are lyrics from ‘That’s Football’, Čech’s 2019 charity single with Queen drummer Roger Taylor.
Yes, that happened. Čech is an amateur drummer who regularly posts videos of his chops, and he has known the professional musician for several years. This is the fruit of their friendship.
— Sports PR Company (@SportsPRCompany) November 7, 2013
Is the song good, you ask? Well, that depends how you define ‘good’, really. Is ‘good’ saving three penalties in a Champions League final, or is ‘good’ a bizarre dad-rock experiment with single-word lines, suspiciously Partridge-like intonation and strong hints of Rainier Wolfcastle?
I’m not going to tell you if ‘That’s Football’ is good or bad. It’s for charity, and you should therefore buy it.
I will say, however, that if we someday walk into a darkened room to find a shackled and blindfolded Stephen Hunt, ‘That’s Football’ playing on loop and at volume from all four corners of the cell, a kind of Chinese water torture in which mundane sporting terms are dripped intermittently into the Irishman’s ears (the pitch / the roar / the crowd / the score), then let’s just say I will not be surprised.
In fact, I will be comforted. Comforted that there is at least a reason why Čech is gloomily enunciating verses like ‘penalty / save / clean sheet / red card / red card‘ over Taylor’s mid-tempo groove.
‘Three Lions’ this is not. This is ‘We Didn’t Start the Fire’ written by a shin pad.
The confusion you feel while listening to ‘That’s Football’ might reflect your feelings more generally about Čech, who occupies a strange position in the hearts of football fans.
As the impenetrable wall behind one of the most unlikeable teams of the 21st century — sorry, editor — the stopper was a friendly face amongst less friendly ones.
José Mourinho, John Terry and Diego Costa stamped their ugly mark on west London, but their Czech goalkeeper was always a class act: quiet, graceful, extraordinarily hard to beat.
You begrudgingly liked him. Chelsea’s nouveau riche often had the odds in their favour, but Čech, after his injury, was playing against them. He was an underdog even on the payroll of a sugar daddy.
In fact, so likeable was Čech, he alone made it easy to root for the Blues during their Champions League victory.
And then came the move.
Your own club allegiance might say otherwise, but Čech massively boosted his good-guy status in 2015.
A player we genuinely feared in the early 2000s, then quickly felt very sorry for, joined a club that elicited similar feelings across a similar timeframe — the only difference being Arsenal’s lack of a rugby helmet to protect its vulnerable parts.
In truth, Čech to Arsenal made a good deal of sense.
But the keeper’s four years in north London are difficult to evaluate. Although he has been one of the better Arsenal stoppers in recent memory, his performances have rarely been up to his Chelsea standards. Occasional heroics have been interspersed with errors, ultimately leading to Bernd Leno’s half-deserved promotion to number one.
Worse still, Čech’s achievements become harder to celebrate as Wojciech Szczęsny, eight years younger, looks more and more like an elite player. Łukasz Fabiański isn’t bad either.
Regardless of how you see Čech’s Arsenal stint, this season’s Europa League has given him the perfect way to say goodbye to football.
Clean sheets home and away against Napoli were a promising sign, and the showdown in Baku, to be played in front of literally dozens of Chelsea and Arsenal fans, is the ideal setting for a final encore. (Not of the song, dear God.)
Can Čech deny his former employers? Can he prove that promoting Thibaut Courtois was a mistake after all? And will loyal Chelsea supporters applaud him if he does?
At least, these are questions we would have been asking had
Chelsea somebody not leaked rumours of the stopper’s imminent return to west London.
The reports of a sporting director role, if true, have tarnished what should have been the main storyline of the final, and there are now serious questions over whether the veteran, his loyalties now divided, should even feature.
All that hard work, commitment, sacrifice and pain, only to sit out of the big match, Götze-style, because his plans got out early.
“Lads, I know I’m joining Chelsea, but please let me play against them in the final in the club’s most important game in over a decade”
Sorry hat-man, you’ve been a good lad, but time’s time. Wish you well.
— Be Well (@SkipperAFC) May 21, 2019
The leak was clearly not the player’s fault, but neutrals who wanted a Čech versus Chelsea redemption story — a chance for the heroic defector to take on his diabolical former ally — will be sorely disappointed.
And not for the first time, either: just a month ago, Jaime Lannister was the bookies’ favourite to kill Cersei, and look where that fucking went.
It could be a similar story in Baku as Čech, lured in by the comfort of his past, may have unwittingly passed up the opportunity to vanquish the enemy.
Will we now discover him hand in hand with Carlo Cudicini amongst the Stamford Bridge rubble? Possibly. But you know what? That’s football. Yeah, football.