Petr Čech announced his retirement with a fittingly simple and dignified way. A short message, a screenshot from his phone’s Notes app.
It read: “This is my 20th season as a professional player and it has been 20 years since I signed my first professional contract, so it feels like the right time to announce that I will retire at the end of this season.
“Having played 15 years in the Premier League and won every single trophy possible, I feel like I have achieved everything I set out to achieve.
“I will continue to work hard at Arsenal to hopefully win one more trophy this season, then I am looking forward to seeing what life holds for me off the pitch.”
It’s also fitting that a goalkeeper — a position defined by its need to be in the right place at the right time — picks the perfect point in his career to retire.
There has been a sense, almost since he joined Arsenal, that Čech’s powers have been waning before our eyes each time he steps onto the pitch. In large part, this has been because of the move to ball-playing goalkeepers, and it’s safe to say that the 36-year-old is not part of this new generation.
There have been times where watching Čech exchange passes with his defenders has been painful to watch. He has neither the touch nor the calmness on the ball of the new breed of goalkeepers flooding European football.
Arsenal’s defenders, to be fair to the Czech, have often not helped matters. A keeper who isn’t a natural with their feet needs to be assisted; passes to their stronger foot, at a friendly pace, nicely rolling on the ground.
Instead, in his seven league appearances of 2018/19, Čech was faced with bouncing hospital passes that were too often to his weaker right foot.
Top keeper, top man
Seeing him in that way, clearly struggling, was beginning to distort the memory of the goalkeeper. And the man.
The man who arrived in England from Rennes and immediately became the best goalkeeper in the league, lifting the Premiership title and picking up the Golden Glove award in 2004/05 after conceding just 15 league goals all season.
The man who suffered a horrific, life-threatening injury yet came back just three months later; it’s hard to believe that in the season he had to recover from a depressed skull fracture that required two metal plates, he still made 20 league appearances for Chelsea and went on to lift the FA Cup.
The man who, 11 years later, asked to visit Ryan Mason to offer him advice and comfort after the Hull City midfielder suffered a similar injury.
“As soon as I got a bit more strength I was keen to see him because he said, ‘As soon as you’re ready, I’d like to come round and speak to you’,” Mason said.
“I think it was after about eight or nine weeks he came round. I was a bit worried at first because I hadn’t really spoken to anyone for longer than ten minutes.
“He walked through the door, sat on my sofa and said, ‘Just sit back, don’t say anything, just listen’ and he spoke for about an hour and a half.
“I didn’t say anything, he just spoke and it was brilliant because when he left my partner said, ‘Wow, the things we were a little bit worried about…’ It just reassured us that everything we were going through was part of the process of recovery.”
Even world-best powers ebb away in the end
In fact, although the narrative has been that Čech aged quickly after leaving Stamford Bridge, he was performing very strongly into his second season at the Emirates.
In 2016/17 — the first season Football Whispers has data for — Čech conceded just 13 goals from 16.33 expected goals he faced in matches against the ‘top six’. That difference of 3.33 goals is just over 20 per cent of the total he faced; a rare feat.
Things did start to tail off from then on, however. Bernd Leno was signed in the summer and, after a slightly shaky start, has looked a natural between the posts at the Emirates.
Arsenal had already spent several years with a likeable, accomplished, but ageing, man who should have stepped down earlier than he did, and the public memory Arsène Wenger is still to shed that taint. Perhaps Čech learnt from that.
Time moves on. All things must come to an end. And Petr Čech’s career was a wonderful thing.