Before he even came to England to join Chelsea, Petr Cech played for Arsenal’s Europa League opponents Rennes for two seasons, and the French media are preparing for the ‘return of a legend’ this week.
Ouest France headlined their article on Tuesday for Cech’s comeback match “Petr Cech, the return of a legend”. They noted it’s been 15 years since the goalkeeper last stepped onto the pitch at Roazhon Park, which he will now do in his last season as a professional footballer.
The piece quotes a number of people close to Cech and Rennes with their opinions on the player.
Head of Chelsea’s goalkeeping department Christophe Lollichon: “In two years, he had become a legend around Rennes. He was a young man, very curious and who had a thirst for performance. There is not a training session where I remember seeing him go backwards on the pitch. He was thirsty for knowledge and discovery.”
Former Rennes manager Vahid Halilhodzic: “I remember that he already had a maturity that was impressive at the time. He had a lot of qualities, he was already a leader. He soon mastered French and greatly contributed to the fact that we were saved (from relegation).”
Jean-Francois Creachcades, ex-Rennes sporting director: “I have not seen many better. An ordinary man, who made himself exceptional.”
Former Rennes goalkeeping coach Pierrick Hiard: “At the end of a week of training, I knew we had hit the jackpot. He was reinforced in all areas, in addition to being huge in potential. And he was a boy who was very endearing and very smart.”
Former teammate Florent Chaigneau: “He was a very good man, a really nice guy. When he was injured, I deputized for the position and he always had words of encouragement for me.”
Another teammate Frederic Piquionne: “We often had match-ups in training and it was very complicated for me to score a goal.”
Ex-Rennes assistant coach Michel Sorin: “He was a phenomenon. He was great, he had exceptional flexibility. He had everything and he was a hard worker.”
Cech kept 27 clean sheets in just two seasons with Rennes, and he played a big part in the club maintaining its Ligue 1 status and making a couple of impressive cup runs. He played four of their five matches as they reached the semi-final in 2003, and humbly blamed himself when they were then eliminated.
The next season, he helped Rennes win two penalty shootouts to reach the quarter-finals, but he then had the miss that match with an injury. They lost without him.
For a player at a bottom-half club to achieve so much at such a young age, it’s no surprise Chelsea ended up taking an interest and bringing him to the Premier League. Now he’ll make his return, and let’s hope he keeps a clean sheet for old times’ sake.