Petr Cech’s legacy at Chelsea and the void he leaves behind

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Petr Cech is universally regarded as a Chelsea legend, yet his sudden departure from the club this week was confirmed with just a brief 167-word statement.

In announcing Cech had walked away from his role as technical and performance adviser, new Blues chairman Todd Boehly described Cech as “an important member of the Chelsea family” but there was no detailing of his achievements in the position or reference to a glittering 11- year playing career at Stamford Bridge.

The last time he left, to join Arsenal in 2015, Chelsea labeled Cech as an “icon” who had made an “immense contribution” to the club’s success – but by that stage he had passed the peak of his powers, replaced by Thibaut Courtois as the club’s first-choice goalkeeper.

Monday’s exit feels almost inverted: no such fanfare but a major blow. Cech, 40, might not have occupied one of the most publicly visible roles at Chelsea but his influence spread far and wide to the extent his decision to quit leaves a huge hole for the club’s new owners to fill.

Boehly’s consortium are determined to forge their own path, but replacing Cech’s football expertise will be a tall order at the beginning of a summer in which they are already starting from behind in efforts to close the gap on Manchester City and Liverpool, due to government sanctions restricting their transfer activity for three months.

Cech and former director Marina Granovskaia – the latter pushed out as the club detached itself from the Roman Abramovich era – formed Chelsea’s football braintrust along with coach Thomas Tuchel, the triumvirate spearheading decision-making over first-team affairs. Sources claim that Cech struck up an immediate relationship with Tuchel, helping to convince him to join the club midseason after Frank Lampard was sacked in February 2021.

Tuchel has rightly forged a reputation as one of the most engaging, affable, and thoughtful head coaches in the game but Chelsea under Abramovich was habitually a club that delegated responsibilities, and Cech was the first point of reference for so many engaging with the Blues. Sources have told ESPN that Cech was one of the key figures discussing possible fixture rescheduling with the Premier League when the division’s administrators considered COVID-19 postponements on a club-by-club basis.

Although Tuchel would hold talks with national team managers from time-to-time, Cech was heavily involved; when Reece James was called up by England in March despite suffering a setback from a hamstring injury, it was Cech who discussed the situation with Gareth Southgate. James later withdrew from the squad. Cech was also a key figure in Chelsea’s transfer activity. Although Granovskaia was the club’s lead negotiator, Cech was a prominent figure during talks for many players with one agent describing him as “approachable 24/7.”

Sources speak positively about his work alongside goalkeeping coach Christophe Lollichon in identifying goalkeeper Edouard Mendy as a possible signing. It is also thought that Cech’s ability to speak German – he is fluent in five languages ​​(his native Czech, English, German, Spanish, and French) – was a significant factor in brokering Timo Werner’s arrival from Red Bull Leipzig in 2020.

And when fan anger at the proposed European Super League reached fever pitch with hundreds protesting outside Stamford Bridge in April last year, Cech left the safety of the directors’ box to try and appease supporters by confronting them head on. He had a similar cohesive effect internally. The morning after Abramovich announced he was putting the club up for sale in early March – triggering widespread uncertainty and confusion – it was Cech who addressed around 100 staff at their Cobham training base to clarify the details.

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A month earlier, Cech gave a talk to the players in Abu Dhabi before the Club World Cup Final against Palmeiras, urging them to seize the moment and capture the last trophy to elude Chelsea under Abramovich; Cech was part of the Chelsea team beaten in their only previous appearance a decade earlier.

He was in daily communication with Tuchel, who will feel Cech’s loss particularly acutely as the new era under Boehly and Clearlake Capital begins. Sources close to Cech insist that there was no indication his role would have changed significantly but it is obvious to all that Boehly is planning to be more hands-on than Abramovich and the departments of chairman Bruce Buck, chief executive Guy Laurence, and Granovskaia would inevitably give day-to-day processes a different feel.

One source suggested there is some validity to the claim Cech was keen to keep Romelu Lukaku at the club but Boehly was adamant the striker should be granted his wish to return to Inter Milan, hinting at a difference of opinion which may have been an ominous portent for the future. Lukaku’s return to Inter on loan will be confirmed imminently.

Yet, Cech publicly described Chelsea as being in “an excellent position with the new owners, and I am confident of its future success.” Sources have told ESPN that the new regime believes their expertise in running US sports franchises utilises skills which are “transferable” to the Premier League. It is early days, of course, with the takeover not even a month old, but that remains to be seen.

Cech’s versatility – he was even briefly registered as a “non-contract player” in 2020 providing “emergency goalkeeping cover” amid concerns over COVID-19 cases – will make him an attractive hire to many clubs should he choose to return to football elsewhere.

But Chelsea’s next move is unclear. Boehly has stepped in as the club’s interim sporting director and is playing an active role in what is a vital summer for Chelsea, having lost center-backs Andreas Christensen and Antonio Rudiger to Barcelona and Real Madrid respectively, while seeking statement signings to close to gap on City and Liverpool, who have both made early exciting acquisitions.

Sources have told ESPN that former Liverpool sporting director Michael Edwards is Boehly’s preferred choice to take on a remodelled role at Chelsea but they will face competition from multiple clubs for his signature given his success on Merseyside. Edwards, 42, is also keen to take a break from football.

Former head of recruitment at Tottenham, Paul Mitchell, and ex-Paris Saint-Germain defender Maxwell are other names thought to be under consideration.

There is a lack of football expertise which Chelsea need to fill. Cech’s departure should only add to the sense of urgency.

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