Scores Rennes en direct
10 September 2011 | à 00h38

Flashback : Petr Čech

During two seasons, Stade Rennais had the chance to have in its squad a player who was about to become one of the best, or perhaps the best goalkeeper in the world. During his stay in Brittany before the next step of his career in Chelsea, Petr Čech has left unforgettable memories to the Rennes fans. A look back at his early career.

Flashback : Petr Čech

When you are an up and coming goalkeeper, you have to endure the tough game of comparisons with your predecessors. In Stade rennais, for a long time, the models were Pierrick Hiard and his three hundred games in “Rouge et Noir”, or even Marcel Aubour and his artichokes.
Today, Benoît Costil is inevitably compared to Nicolas Douchez. The latter, as Isaksson or Pouplin before him, has also experienced this situation, with the great Petr Čech as reference.
A key Rennes player in early 2000’s, the current Chelsea goalkeeper has impressed the club with his qualities in the goals. Nevertheless, if a persistent belief remains that he was a real nobody before his arrival in Brittany, the tall (1m96 under his hairs) czech international had already proved a lot before coming to Rennes.

A broken leg, the difference

From a very sportive family, he was born in Pilsen, a town of Czech Republic mainly known for its brewery. The young Petr Čech was initiated to athletics, volley-ball, basket-ball, tennis and even hockey by a father with a passion for sport. At 6, Petr chose hockey but the equipment was too expensive, and he was soon forced to forget his early preference.
At 7, he switched to football, where his tallness gave him an advantage to play as a goalkeeper. During this period though, he played as a forward “I loved to score”, Čech admitted later. This call wouldn’t last too long. At 12, he broke his leg “I thought it would be safer to stay in the goals. And that’s how I became a goalkeeper”.

Petr wouldn’t regret it. Quickly, his qualities as a goalkeeper became obvious to everyone, and his growth - he was already 1m85 at 14, and then grew an additional 16cm during his adolescence - was impressive. At 17, he was spotted by Chmel Blšany, a modest team from the Czech top flight, where he began his career. There again his performance quickly attracted more attention “I wanted to stay at Chmel Blšany for two seasons even though I had the opportunity to join Sparta Prague at the end of the first season, Čech explained, I thought I wasn’t be ready, I needed to be faster”.
As planned, after two years in Blšany, he headed to Sparta Prague, the biggest club in the country. The great expectations were confirmed, and he earned his first titles. During the 2001-2002 season, he also beats the invincibility record for a goalkeeper in the championship, with a run of ten consecutive games without conceding a goal. A major member of the international youth national teams, he soon caught the eye of Karel Brückner, the senior national coach. In February 2002, before his twentieth birthday, Petr Čech started his career on the international scene.

Under the spotlights at the U21 Euro

It didn’t stop him from remaining in the U21 Czech squad, which was about to play in the Euro in May 2002 [1]. In this squad, many very valuable players were amongst his team-mates, including Milan Baroš and Zdeněk Grygera.
However, the competition didn’t start in the best of way. On the opening game, Czech Republic was defeated against the French team coached by Raymond Domenech (0-2), with two goals of Sidney Govou and Olivier Sorlin. After their victory against Belgium (1-0), the Czechs only just qualified with the second qualifying position in their group after a draw against Greece (1-1). In the semi-final, while France defeated the Switzerland – the host country of the competition – of Alexander Frei. The Czechs managed the performance to beat Italy (3-2 a.e.t.). They were leading 2-0 at the 83rd minutes, the Italians succeeded in coming back in the game with a late penalty of Pirlo, but they would fall in the extra time.

In the final, the reunion with France was far more balanced than the opening game. The teams didn’t show any weaknesses. Cech’s showed all the extent of his skills to put-off the French forwards. The score remained blank even after extra time, and the outcome would be decided on the penalty shoot-outs. At this game, while Mickaël Landreau didn’t manage to stop any of the Czechs shots, Petr Čech displayed all his class. Powerless on the first shot of Camel Meriem, he then parried Pierre-Alain Frau’s, Julien Escude’s and Jean-Alain Boumsoung’s attempts. Winning the shootouts on a 3-1 score line, Czech Republic was crowned the new U21 European champions.
Obviously, such amazing performances didn’t stay unnoticed by recruiters, who had already been seeing Čech with Sparta during the season in Champion’s League. Arsenal or Lazio Roma were looking to hire him. But once again, the young goalkeeper decided to build his future patiently, and chose to progress step by step.

«Rennes, the ideal club»

Thanks to the contribution of French middle-men, Čech and his agent were soon heading to Ligue 1. Several aspects would make him choose Stade Rennais, the first one being sportive. With Eric Durand reaching the end of his career and having done what he could in 2001-2002, Stade Rennais was looking for a first-choice goalkeeper. «Rennes is the ideal club for his first experience abroad, his agent pointed in July 2002. Petr was particularly seduced with the fact he would be number 1». Another important thing, the presence of Philippe Bergeroo as coach: a former goalkeeper, which finished convincing Čech.
On Tuesday, July 9th, the player signed a four years contract with Stade Rennais, whose managers went to Austria to close the deal. Resigned since a long time to the eventual loss of their prodigy, Sparta raked in an amount comprised between 4.5 and 5 million euros, the biggest transfer fee received by a Czech club at the time.

We know what followed: Petr Čech naturally became one of the best goalkeepers of Ligue 1. Naturally, everything wasn’t perfect, the tall Rennes goalkeeper was still learning from his coaches Pierrick Hiard and then Christophe Lollichon. Quickly a friendship sparked between the latter and his protégé, and they still have a particular bound today, since Lollichon followed Čech in Chelsea. «At the beginning, we didn’t work together but we felt, every time we saw each other, that there was a connection., the former nantais explained to the website, last April. Quickly, he expressed the wish that I joined him to become his personal coach». A relation which will amaze Lollichon forever. «We have always been friends and we still are, the former goalkeeper explained. He is an extraordinary man, a very high-level athlete and a fantastic goalkeeper. Someone who’s always thinking and who is therefore also forcing others to think like that, always looking for the best trainings, closer to the realities of competition».

When England came with her charming eyes

At Stade Rennais, the truth of competition is about a fight of every moment during the season 2002-2003, in the sole goal to remain in Ligue 1. Bergeroo was quickly fired, and Vahid Halilhodžić took charge, then reached to get (in extremis) a saving 15th position. Despite this tough season, Čech learned.
«Those last months have been sportively tough, but also very interesting, he affirmed during spring 2003. In the life of a football player, it’s important to have a good misgiving during delicate periods. I think I have progress since my arrival in France, but I still do some mistakes».
Big clubs already started knocking at Stade Rennes’ door in order to steal their jewel. England had a particular interest on him: Sir Alex Ferguson actually came in person to observe him during an evening of March 2003, for a game at the Route de Lorient against Auxerre (0-0). As usual Petr didn’t panic :«My only concern is my team’s staying in L1, he pointed. We will discuss at the end of the season. I can stay in Rennes, here it’s quiet. French people know how to have a good life and good food. In Czech Republic there isn’t any ocean. I like seafood, and in Brittany I’m spoiled!»

As he did with Chmel Blšany and then Sparta, Čech chose, during the summer of 2003, not to give up the special charms of British gastronomy too early, this to the delight of Rennes’ management. With Halilhodžić’s gone, Laszlo Bölöni took over the head coach position, and he could only welcome the performances of his goalkeeper. Only one elbow injury on February 14th 2004 during a game in Lens, stopped his progression. Out for more than a month, Čech was powerlessly witnessing the setbacks of his substitute Florent Chaignea, who multiplied mistakes during his cover duties.
Few weeks before that, in early January, the phone had rung again from England. But this time it wasn’t Manchester who was hunting the Rennes goalkeeper, but the ambitious Chelsea, where the Russian billionaire Roman Abramovitch had just arrived. Not convinced with the performances of his italian first-choice Carlo Cudicini, the London club began to target Čech, and made a first offer of 9.3 million euros. After turning down the amount proposed by Chelsea, Stade Rennais finally had to let its goalkeeper go. Although the “Blues” wanted to transfer him in January 2004, the Breton club succeeded in delaying the transfer until the end of the season, and managed to increase the amount of the transfer up to 11.5 million euros.

«Chelsea got the idea of a transfer next July», Pierre Dréossi welcomed, who however affirmed that the British club «took a long time» before understanding that Stade Rennais didn’t want to sell him before summer 2004. Happy to join a big club, moreover with a few certainties about his future position in the hierarchy, Petr Čech closed his spell in Brittany quietly. After his recovery he returned to his position in the goals and took part in Stade Rennes’ beautiful end of the season.
On May 23th 2004, during his last game at the Stade de la Route de Lorient, Čech received a standing ovation from the home crowd, being replaced a few minutes before the final whistle by Simon Pouplin during a one-way game against Montpellier (4-0). A public, convinced to be witnessing the rise of a great goalkeeper as privileged spectators.

photo : Honza Groh


[1Czech Republic wasn’t able to qualify for the World Cup in Japan and South Korea

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