Cech must be wary of history repeating itself

Posted by Phil Lythell

BEN STANSALL/AFP/Getty ImagesPetr Cech has been Chelsea's No.1 dating back to 2004.

Chelsea's search for a world class top-level striker who can guarantee goals has dominated the transfer speculation surrounding the club for the past couple of years, and with the rumour mill whirring once again, the subject returned to centre stage. Not for the first time, Radamel Falcao has been linked with a move to Stamford Bridge -- the fire being fueled by some classically ambiguous comments from the Colombian hitman coupled with respected Spanish journalist Guillem Balague projecting that a potential move has some credence, though arguably Jose Mourinho has a bigger decision to make regarding the shape of his squad next season.

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On the surface, the position of goalkeeper would not appear to be an area that is in desperate need of surgery given that the incumbent, Petr Cech, has been a dedicated servant to the club for almost a decade and was recently named the best in the world by his manager. Unfortunately for him, the presence of the hugely impressive Thibaut Courtois on Chelsea's payroll ensures that every slight mistake that Cech makes is magnified significantly. After his error in letting Stephane Sessegnon's shot slip through his fingers in last weekend's draw with West Bromwich Albion, the spotlight was once again cast upon this curious state of affairs in which Chelsea have a player in Courtois -- on loan at Atletico Madrid and widely considered to be the best young stopper in the world -- that they currently deem surplus to requirements.

It seems churlish to immediately claim that Courtois should be installed as Chelsea's No. 1 on the back of an aberration by an otherwise excellent goalkeeper. However, the situation is slowly coming to a head. The issue has less to do with perceived deficiencies on Cech's part but rather more on looking ahead to ensure that the Blues maintain excellence in that department for several seasons to come. The Czech international is only 31, just past the midpoint of a goalkeeper's career, though with his rival 10 years his junior and excelling in La Liga for Diego Simeone's progressive side, the temptation must surely be there to bring Courtois back into the fold if only to deprive another team of his services.

The same questions were being asked last season while the Belgian's star continued to rise, though the decision was made easier for the incoming manager by Courtois' acceptance of another year on loan at the Vicente Calderon, especially with a World Cup looming next June. The stakes have been increased since then, though, with the 21-year-old now stalling on Chelsea's attempt to lure him into signing a lucrative contract extension -- the player unconvinced that he will be guaranteed first-team action given Cech's seniority in West London.

Courtois is understandably a very confident young man and is sure of his own worth, recently stating that he considered himself to be among the top five goalkeepers on the planet. Given his feats to date and regular outstanding displays, it is hard to argue with him. With such status comes envious glances from other clubs, with Real Madrid and particularly Barcelona having cast covetous eyes over the goalkeeper, providing Courtois with an excellent bargaining position when negotiating his future with current employers.

Some might say that in an ideal world for Chelsea, both Cech and Courtois would be retained in the squad with the two of them battling to win a place on match day, though that would contain its own problems. Competition between players is generally held up as a positive, but at some point a manager has to settle on one, simultaneously disappointing the other.

The other option is to rotate them. While that can be effective in outfield positions, it is not the case with goalkeepers, as Manchester United's experiment with David de Gea and Anders Lindegaard showed. In that instance, neither gained the required confidence or familiarity with the defenders in front of them to take ownership of the position, and goals were leaked as a result.

Another problem with this situation is a commercial one. Both Cech and Courtois are highly regarded in the football world and could command sizable transfer fees were they to come on the market. A prolonged spell on the sidelines for either of them would see their value depreciate markedly. Like it or not, football is a business these days and the presence of Financial Fair Play dictates that books must be balanced. It is hard to see Chelsea retaining them both at the same time, even if Courtois' demands for a starting spot were disregarded.

There is a school of thought that for being the custodian throughout the most successful period in the club's history, Cech should be afforded the benefit of the doubt. In the immediate aftermath of his three penalty saves in the 2012 Champions League final, all Chelsea fans have concurred that "Big Pete" should have a job for life at Stamford Bridge. However, while loyalty is a trait that Mourinho values highly and will often exhibit himself, he is also not a manager to indulge heavily in sentiment.

In his first spell at the club, Mourinho made the decision to remove Carlo Cudicini from the starting 11 despite him having shown himself to be one of the best keepers in the Premier League during the previous couple of seasons. Although the manager had no prior experience of working with Cudicini, the Italian's professionalism would have made it a tough call for him to make, though with such a hot prospect waiting in the wings, he felt obliged to make it. The prospect in question? Petr Cech.

In the summer of 2014, 10 years on from that decision, the moment may well come when history repeats itself, only this time it will be Cech who is usurped by the young pretender. Football, eh? It's a funny old game.

Follow Phil Lythell on Twitter @PhilLythell


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