SAFE HANDS

Posted on: Fri 30 Mar 2012

If anyone needed further evidence that Petr Cech is one of the world's best then it came on Tuesday night.

In the minds of Blues fans, Cech had already silenced recent critics with the penalty-saving performance at the hostile Upton Park, but if there was any doubt left in people's minds over his return to form, it was dispelled in Barcelona.

With an on-fire performance which denied Samuel Eto'o, Thierry Henry, Dani Alves and Alexander Hleb, Cech was instrumental as Chelsea ran-out a goalless draw at the Camp Nou.

Previous to those two fixtures he'd uncharacteristically let in seven goals in two games before the 0-0 meeting with Everton and 2-1 win over Arsenal in the FA Cup.

Predictably, the media jumped on those performances and produced premature obituaries of our world-class keeper, writing off his season with the flick of a pen.

But being the talent he is, Cech proved them wrong once more by generating his best performance of the season, leaving chesleafc.com with plenty of questions about his exceptional attitude to football, but questions that needed answers from a close colleague's point of view as Cech prepares to face Fulham today.

Petr Cech
Petr Cech in the new Chelsea goalkeeper kit.


That colleague had to know the Czech international inside-out, so it had to be someone he worked closely with, as well as understand the pressures of top-flight football and help explain the mindset of a world-class shot-stopper.

Considering all these factors, only one name came to mind, Henrique Hilario.

The 33-year-old Portuguese keeper knows the rigmaroles of modern day football, and understands why no player can be expected to play at his best game-in-game-out: 'You are not a machine,' exclaimed Hilario, 'Everyone expects the maximum of games without any mistakes, but as a goalkeeper it is sometimes really difficult, especially when you have a lot of pressure put on you.'

Pressure is something every footballer is used to, but recovering from a bad spell of games is not something that can be taught, it's an ability that comes with practice.

'When I was young, if I made a mistake in a game, that mistake would put me under pressure, even during the game. But when you play more and more games you get the experience not to get pressured or get nervous over a mistake.

'You learn to look forward and not look back over the mistakes. When I finish a game I have a quick reflection on what I have done and then I will start to focus on the next game, so you can never think of an example or situation once it has happened, because you move forward and that is what's important for Petr.'

Returning to form for a keeper is different from that of an outfield player, because it often depends on the opponent's performances as to whether you'll be tested to your full potential.

It can sometimes be a long wait, especially if you're Chelsea's goalie, but following our final Champions League clash with Liverpool, Cech had to line-up against Arsenal in the FA Cup semi-final, before we hosted Everton at Stamford Bridge.

Both those games were good preparation for our visit to east London, where Cech pulled off a brilliant performance to deny West Ham a point, and with his goalkeeper's mindset in action, Hilario believes it is that performance which produced the unstoppable Cech we saw against Barcelona, a side Hilario himself debuted against.

'It helps a lot when you have a penalty against you as a goalkeeper; you have to always have the feeling that you are able to save that penalty. I know that Petr always thinks that when he has a penalty.

'In that case it was really important for the team that they didn't concede, but with Petr's confidence it was amazing and not only because of the penalty save but in general he gave us three points in the end.

'That was a big boost to his confidence for the next game and you could see him doing his best at the Barcelona game.'

Hilario was speaking about his teammate on a visit to Stamford Bridge's education department, where he had a prior arrangement with children from a local school.

Hilario hspace=0 alt=Hilario src="/javaImages/5b/30/0,,10268~5845083,00.jpg" width=400 height=266>


As the club's reading ambassador, Hilario wanted to speak to the children about the importance of reading before comparing his favourite books with them, and there was one thing the children had in common with our goalkeeper, their most treasured read is also his children's.

'My children love Owl's Babies, they love the pictures of the baby owls,' explained Hilario.

But there was a more unique title that stands out for him, one which changed his outlook.

'When I was younger I used to read a book called Many Lives, Many Masters, which changed the way I looked at life,' said Hilario.

'I used to read a bit when I was younger but now; when I have time, I try to read as much as possible. I always read in the hotels or when we are travelling and I read to my children as much as possible.'

Maybe that explains why he is so good at articulating his point, a talent he uses to great effect when he takes up his role in the Chelsea goals.

As a Blue, Hilario's first appearance came in 2006 when, after injury sidelined Cech and Carlo Cudicini, he was placed between the posts against a dangerous Barcelona.

Henrique Hilario

Thrust unexpectedly into the spotlight, Hilario's experience shone through as he kept a clean sheet against the European champions in a 1-0 win.

'I remember my debut, it was more special for the people that didn't know me, because it was my first game, I was just arriving at Chelsea, but I didn't feel the pressure of 'okay this is my first game, I need to show to everyone'.

'I knew I needed to show the others and I knew all eyes were on me, but I didn't feel any pressure.

'I think the most important thing in the game is to put all of your focus on the ball, on the game and forget everything else. That is what I did and it was good for me.'

With such experience of the Catalan club, Hilario knows the separation between the Spanish giants and other European sides, especially teams from the Barclays Premier League.

'Barcelona play more with the ball than Premier League teams, they always look forward and the way they play you can see that they enjoy playing short passes with a lot of movement between players, with the ball along the floor, so it is a different style of football.

'I am not saying that it is better, because here in England we have fantastic games and lots of goals, but the way they play is with more movement and passes.'

More movement usually means more shots on goal, and Barcelona are no exception.

Between them, Lionel Messi, Henry and Eto'o have scored over 90 goals in all competitions this season. With such large numbers of goals, fans will be expecting plenty of action for the men between the posts.

'It is not good for a goalkeeper if you have a lot of goals, but if there are a lot of goals for Chelsea then it will be perfect.

'Obviously somebody has to score to go through and I don't like to think of penalties after extra-time.

'But to score Barcelona need to go forward, as do we, so it will be an open game, but I am full of confidence in my players and we have been working really hard these last few weeks to get our objectives done and our objectives is to get to the final in Rome.

'It will be an open game for sure, a lot of chances on goal will be coming for sure, but we trust Petr, he is doing his best at the moment and a lot of goals should come for us.'

By Christian Collison


You can now pre-order the new Chelsea goalkeeper kit by clicking here.