There was no hiding the satisfaction in Arsène Wenger’s voice when the club confirmed the signing of Petr Cech.
“He has proven over many seasons that he is one of the outstanding keepers in the world and he will add great strength to our squad,” enthused the Arsenal manager. David Seaman was next to voice his approval.
“Chelsea's loss could, and likely will be Arsenal's gain,” the iconic ‘keeper smiled. Journalists have made comparisons between this transfer and the deal that brought Pat Jennings to Arsenal in 1977, with compliments paid by Frank Lampard and John Terry emphasising the high esteem in which Petr is held by his former team-mates.
“Cech is a world-class ‘keeper and person, and can help push Arsenal into the running next season,” remarked the former.
There is genuine excitement around the club at the addition of Petr. The numbers generated across Arsenal’s social media channels when the move was announced are a case in point: 55,000 retweets, 40,000 shares, 325,000 likes.
The goalkeeper’s statistics make for fine reading too. During his 11 years in the blue corner of London, he won four Premier League titles, four FA Cups, three League Cups as well as the Champions League and the Europa League. Add to that three Golden Glove awards and it’s clear to see why this transfer has delighted the Arsenal fans.
Petr himself comes across as an engaging, polite and intelligent individual determined to make his mark in north London. Speaking exclusively to the Arsenal magazine in Prague just days after his transfer was completed, the charismatic ‘keeper revealed how he fell in love with football, outlined the importance of the goalkeepers’ union and explained how he plans to use his love of music to integrate quickly into the first-team squad.
Petr, firstly how does it feel to have joined Arsenal? It feels great and I’m really looking forward to the new challenge. I hope it will be a successful one.
You’ve played in the Premier League for 11 years. In which way is your game different now to how it was in 2004? When I arrived in 2004, I was discovering every ground and every team’s style of play. There is a lot of unknown. But now, 11 years on, I know pretty much every ground in the Premier League and know what to expect, which comes to my advantage. The understanding of the game, the passion and everything surrounding the Premier League is important and that’s an advantage for me. Although I’ve changed club and will have new team-mates, playing for a team that plays a different way, all these little factors will help me because I need to concentrate only on gelling together with my team-mates, with the defence and finding the best possible understanding. I don’t have to look at the other circumstances.
Do you feel as though you are in your prime now? Every game I played last season, I played at the standard and with the skills required to play at the highest level in the top league. I’m really looking forward to keep doing that in every game. I’m raring to go and can’t wait for the season to start.
I’m sure you’ve watched the other goalkeepers at the club. How would you identify their talents? Wojciech has been there for a long time and Arsenal believe in him for a reason. He’s got the talent, he’s got the potential, although he lost his place last season to David Ospina, who had a great spell when he came into the team. I’m ready to come in and compete. I like the competition - I don’t fear it. I actually believe that healthy competition in the team moves the team forward. I know what I can do and I will try to show the manager and everybody that he made the right choice by signing me.
People often talk about the goalkeepers’ union. How much are you looking forward to working with your fellow ‘keepers at Arsenal, and the coaches too? A lot of people talk about the goalkeepers’ union but it really exists. In any team, if you want your goalkeeper to play well, you need to have that healthy competition and mutual respect from your team-mates and in the goalkeeper group. It brings everybody to a different level in terms of training and in matches, and it gives confidence. I believe that this is very important in any team. I had that at my previous club for 11 years and it was absolutely amazing to work with the goalkeepers I worked with. I hope that we can duplicate that with my Arsenal team-mates. Let’s see how it will go. I’m very positive about it because I believe the environment is very important.
You’re a new signing but are also the most experienced goalkeeper at the club. Do you see one of your roles as passing on your experience? I always like to have a chat with everybody. I’m very passionate about the role of goalkeeping generally. Whoever wants to come and speak to me about it has to be ready to talk for three hours! I’m really open and I always like to have the opportunity to pass on my experience, to help the young players to evolve and to get better. It’s something that I believe is very important for any player with experience. It’s a pity if you keep it to yourself because you can help new players and you can make them better.
You’ve consistently won major trophies throughout your career. What’s the key to becoming a winner? I think you can’t have doubts. I believe in what I can do. I believe in my skills, I believe in my team-mates and that together we can achieve the targets and goals we set up. That means winning a football game. You cannot have a fear of making a mistake because a football game can finish only three ways - you win, you lose or you draw. You have to accept that. Maybe you win and maybe you lose. But if you give 100 per cent, you have the biggest chance that you can win. This is probably the reason that I managed to keep my continuity for such a long time. I’m a winner in a way that I go to the pitch and I know that if I do my job 100 per cent, I have a chance to win the game. I never have a doubt that I can’t do that.
Does it become easier to win trophies after you win your first one or two? A lot of people say that once you win something big, the motivation goes down. It actually works the other way round. I can give the example of the Champions League where people said ‘oh they won the Champions League, now they don’t care anymore’ - but actually it was the other way round. It was such an amazing accomplishment, such an amazing feeling that you want to repeat it. Once you hold the Premier League trophy or any other trophy in your hand, you want to have that feeling of satisfaction, accomplishment and happiness. You just say ‘ok, next year I want to have a go again and I want to feel the same thing’. That brings people forward and I think that’s why it’s important to win trophies, because it can actually give you that extra edge. You know what it takes to win it and you want to repeat it.
It can sometimes take time for outfield players to adjust to a new style of football - what’s it like for goalkeepers? Do you expect to have to develop different areas of your game? Hopefully it will not be as difficult. I have to say that the goalkeeper position is really special in the team. Your skills are different so the advantage could be the fact that I’ve played in the Premier League for such a long time. I will not find certain things very surprising. I believe that coming into a new team, you just need to understand the way your defence is playing, understand the way your team is organised and the way the transition from attack to defence goes. I think once you understand that, and it comes through the training and the pre-season games, then obviously you can find a way to deal with certain situations and how to organise people in the way they are used to. Then they will be really efficient. Adjusting is something that I hope, with my experience, is not going to be a problem.
Is that something that you study in depth in pre-season? Do you watch team-mates and try to learn how they operate? The way I work is that at every single moment in the game, I’m anticipating what could happen in that moment. I try to organise the people at the back so that my team is safe at any moment. Obviously you cannot guarantee that because in football there are so many combinations and possibilities, so sometimes a mistake happens or a missed pass happens, or the opponent make a good action and are hard to defend. I believe that if you are organised, ready and focused at every moment, then your possibility to defend any dangerous situation is much higher and better. This is the way I try to work and I think this is something that will not change. The organisation of the team is very important and you don’t want to change that because the players are used to playing a certain way. After a few training sessions and the first game, I’ll understand that and then it will be easy to find my way.
When you were growing up, how did you become interested in football? Well I started playing ice hockey first and I really loved that. Then I started playing football when I was six and I had the same passion for the sport. I like the fact that you are with team-mates. You win together, you lose together, you train together and you can have a lot of fun. If you achieve something, you have 25 people to celebrate with you. That bond of the team sport is something I really like. In a way, there are a lot of individual aspects in football. Being a goalkeeper, you are practically an individual sport included in the collective sport. I think this is exactly what suits my personality. I like individual responsibility, which goalkeepers hugely have. And I love playing in a team, to have team-mates, to have friends and have people to speak to and rely on. For me football is a perfect combination for that.
You would have been 14 at the time of Euro 96. What do you remember about that tournament and what did it do for football in the Czech Republic? I have great memories of that tournament. The first memory is that we started the Euros against Germany. We lost 2-0 and I was watching it at home with all my family and friends. We were all disappointed that we’d lost. Then my team had a tournament in Italy for a week. By the time Czech Republic played Italy in a crucial game, we were also in Italy when the Czech national team won 2-1. All of us had shirts with the Czech Republic flag on and everywhere we went, it was absolutely unbelievable. All the Italians were like ‘oh Czech Republic, what have you done?’ It was absolutely amazing. Then we progressed to the latter stages of the tournament and we watched every single game.
I was like a super fan, I felt like I almost had a fever every time we didn’t win. I’m the kind of guy who really felt the pressure from the TV. I’m always into it and it was a great experience for me. It was a disappointment when we lost the final to the golden goal but it was a great tournament for us. That is something that I always remember because in that moment I was already 14 and had played one game for the under-15 national team. You realise that if you keep training hard, if you keep doing well and you stay in those national teams, it’s the best and easiest way for you to have a chance to play for the national team. You watch it on the TV and you see the passion, the full stadiums and the great atmosphere. Then I realised that I really wanted to one day be there. I wanted to have a chance to play in a European Championship because it looked so great.
You are joining compatriot Tomas Rosicky at Arsenal. What’s your relationship like with him and how well do you know each other? We’ve been playing together in the national team for 10 years. I played for Sparta Prague and so did he, but we never managed to play one single game together because the moment I joined, he left for Borussia Dortmund. Having played with him for 10 years in the national team, this is the first time I’ll have an opportunity to play a club game with him, which is quite amazing.
Away from football, I’ve seen some footage of you drumming on YouTube and read that you’ve drummed with Roger Taylor from Queen. What was that experience like? It was absolutely unbelievable. When I was 14 or 15, my sister and I would listen to Queen records. I have a lot of friends who still keep playing their songs. Suddenly I had the opportunity to meet Roger - the greatest. I met him on the plane home from a Champions League game because he’s a football fan. We had a little chat and in the end we had a little jam. We got to know each other and I’m grateful for that.
Is music one of your main hobbies away from football? Yes it is. Ever since I was a kid, I loved music. I find it very relaxing to listen to an iPod. You can just lock yourself with the music and relax. When I started playing the drums, I realised it’s much more fun when you actually join in with music. Nowadays you can find so many play-alongs and all these drumless tracks. You can play with that track, you can put your favourite band in your headphones, sit behind your drum kit and you can rock all afternoon! It’s absolutely relaxing and that’s what I love about it.
Have you got a favourite artist whose music you enjoy playing? I like Nirvana and all their songs - their music is challenging to play on the drums as well. There are plenty of bands that I follow. I like Dave Grohl and Foo Fighters. I was lucky to meet Will Champion from Coldplay. They are one of those bands that you listen to if you want to hear a nice and musical group. I’m pretty much a jukebox - I listen to everything.
Who’s the most musically-talented footballer that you know? I know that Tomas plays the guitar. He played a few gigs with a group whose name translates to Three Sisters. Tomas and I actually had a little jam when we were in Poland at Euro 2012. We had a free afternoon where I found a studio with a drum kit. He joined me with one of the masseurs, which was quite fun. So yeah, I’d probably have to say Tomas.
And you’ve played at a festival… I played it in 2013 I think. It’s called Rock For People and it’s the Czech Republic’s biggest festival. It lasts for five days and the year I played, 30 Seconds to Mars and Queens of the Stone Age were performing. It’s a massive festival - I played with a band called Eddie Stoilow. Our gig was in one of the tents you use for Glastonbury and it held about 6,000 or 7,000 people. It was completely packed - even with people standing outside. I have to say that it was nerve-racking. I was nervous when I came onto the stage. I’ve played football matches in front of 90,000 people but that was something where I was like ‘wow!’ As much as I was nervous, I really enjoyed it because the atmosphere at the gig was completely different to a football atmosphere. You hit the first note and it’s like you’ve scored the winner in the last minute. And if you keep playing well and you keep that energy while the gig goes on, it feels absolutely brilliant.
We’ve mentioned Tomas - Alexis Sanchez and Wojciech Szczesny can both play the piano too, so you’ve got plenty of chances for some jam sessions with your new team-mates. Let’s see if we have time during pre-season. I’m more than happy to do that. I always find time to find a drum studio and have a little jam or practice when we’re traveling. As long as people play a musical instrument, I’m happy.
Did you always want to be a goalkeeper? No, I never thought of being a goalkeeper. I was an ice hockey goalkeeper and when I started playing football, I was a midfielder or a left winger. Occasionally at the end of training sessions, when you had a free game with no ‘keeper, where the deepest player acted as a goalkeeper, sometimes I went into goal because I wanted to see the difference between a big goal and a small ice hockey goal. My coach saw me a few times and one day, our goalkeeper didn’t come for a game. We had no ‘keeper and somebody had to play there, but nobody really wanted to.
He pointed to me and said ‘I’ve seen you a few times in goal and you’ve been doing quite well. You should try it.’ I said I would do it for one match and we ended up having a very good game. The next day, when I came for the training session, the goalkeeping coach took me and said that I should stay with him. But then my coach didn’t want to listen to that. For about a year, I was playing outfield or in goal depending on the opponents. Then when I was about 10 I broke my leg quite badly and the recovery took time. I couldn’t run and I had pain for quite a long time. Being in goal means you can sit, you can lie, you can catch balls and you can still work and train. That made the biggest difference in my life because that moment defined that I stayed in goal.
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