Petr Cech began a new chapter when the curtain came down on his playing career after Arsenal’s defeat to Chelsea in the Europa League final last season. There has been no rest in retirement. Cech spent 11 successful years at Chelsea before joining Arsenal in 2015 and he returned to Stamford Bridge as the club’s technical and performance adviser in the summer.
The role has him working under Marina Granovskaia, Chelsea’s chief transfer negotiator, and he has settled well despite the challenge of adjusting to life away from the pitch. “The match days are the hardest,” Cech says. “For 20 years you work all week for the game. In my role you work the whole week for the game. But then I don’t have any participation in that game. It’s a very strange feeling.
“I used to be in the middle of it all and now I work towards the game, making sure everything works, and then the responsibility is to the manager and his staff, not me. I can only sit and support. As a player I hated the games I had to watch from the stands because I had no impact. This is the feeling I have to overcome. I am getting better. The more games you go to, the more you get used to the fact the match days are not about you. At the start it was a struggle. You want to be in there. But it was not for me any more.”
Cech is the best goalkeeper in Chelsea’s history, a hero of their Champions League win in 2012. That year he excelled in the semi-final victory over Barcelona and in the final against Bayern Munich. The German side surely would have won had Cech not saved Arjen Robben’s penalty in extra time.
Yet Cech was often efficient rather than spectacular and his interest in strategy might be why a technical role appeals. “As a goalkeeper you see everything,” he says. “The biggest part of my game was I could organize people to make my job much easier. You pay attention to why things are organized a certain way. You talk to people at the club. I was always a representative of the team talking to the board. I was always interested in how the club worked.
“I am getting my own ideas about what could work better. Generally when you work with a lot of different people at this level it is run by departments. But there are a lot. The best part for me is connecting the departments. This is my biggest target, to make sure everything is connected and works one way.
“The first team is the most important. But then we have the scouting, recruitment, the development squad, players who are on loan. All this works together. It will give the first team a much better platform and [let] the manager have an easier job and concentrate only on the pitch. This is something we have been trying to create. So far this season we have been working well.”
Chelsea were tipped to struggle this season and this was confirmed with a 1-3 defeat to Everton on Saturday. They now lie fourth in the Premier League table. Their transfer embargo left them unable to spend after selling Eden Hazard to Real Madrid and many wondered if a manager as inexperienced as Frank Lampard was the right person to replace Maurizio Sarri. Lampard has given opportunities to the club’s academy products.
“The manager with his coaching staff has done a remarkable job,” Cech says. “They managed to integrate players in the team. The senior players were a huge help for the young players. They help them become better and keep them grounded. And the biggest part is the coaching staff and the manager because he sets the tone on the training ground. He takes the biggest credit.”
Cech smiles about discipline under Lampard, who fines players £20,000 if they are late for training. “Some people find it surprising but we have always had huge fines at Chelsea,” he says. “The commitment to work is really important. To respect the rules is something where you need no talent. You can have zero talent, but you can be on time. It is about commitment. This is not to scare people. It is just to remind them that if you can control your discipline the better it will be for everybody.”
Cech does not remember Lampard ever being late for training and standards remain high, even if Chelsea’s spending power is eclipsed by City’s these days. Lampard has to win trophies, even if he is a club legend. At the same time, however, this feels like a different Chelsea. There is a sense that the impatience of old has been replaced by a more long-term approach.
“You have to adapt,” he says. “Arsenal was Arsène Wenger for 22 years. Chelsea had 22 managers in 22 years.” Cech laughs; the serious point is on the way. “I always worked for one thing: play the best game, train the best way, be the best possible version of yourself. This is how you stay when a new manager comes. When you make sure your job is the top, you can influence others. This kind of thing I can bring with me. I can influence others and hopefully everything will come together and the first team will benefit. Hopefully the whole club will benefit.”
It will be fascinating to see what Chelsea do if they are able to make signings in January. Yet there is a realization that sustainability is the way forward. Money means nothing if the people spending it have no vision and Chelsea have focused on building a structure around Lampard.
Cech is not the only retired player at the club: Carlo Cudicini looks after the loan players and Claude Makelele mentors youngsters. Joe Cole and Ashley Cole are also coaching in the academy. The impression is that Chelsea made a wise move bringing Cech home.
“It is a different life,” he says. “As a player you have a responsibility for yourself. For being part of the team. You are responsible for the club’s image. But now the responsibility is to work with a big group of people, to make sure they connect. The power of the team is in the unit. If everybody works for one common goal, this is how you win.”
The Guardian Sport