Interview

Cech recalls Rennes start and Rennes return

Edouard Mendy is of course not the only member of the Chelsea set-up for whom a game away against Rennes stirs special emotions.

It is a rapid return tonight for the goalkeeper signed from our Champions League opponents in the summer. Petr Cech, now our technical and performance advisor, had to wait a whole lot longer to go back in a professional capacity to Rennes, the club from whom he also joined Chelsea, but he did have that opportunity even before this week.

In March 2019, before he retired from playing, his then club Arsenal were drawn against the Ligue 1 outfit on the way to meeting Chelsea in the Europa League final, and although they did progress on aggregate, the Gunners lost the away leg 3-1. Even so, Cech still has some good memories of the night as he received a tremendous reception from the Rennes fans.

‘I have to say I am a fortunate guy,’ he says, ‘because every time I go to an ex-club I get a good reception from the people because I think they appreciated or realised that I always tried to do my best and always put my heart into the job, trying to help the team and the club as much as possible. So I was lucky with the switch between Arsenal and Chelsea and back, and with Rennes, and when we went back with Chelsea to play Sparta Prague years back, it was the same.

‘So I’m a lucky boy in terms of that. I always try to do my best and it’s good to see that people appreciate it.’

Unfortunately, Mendy does not have the same chance to play in front of the crowd that used to watch him between their posts.

‘I think it is a shame for him that he will not feel it straight in the stadium because of the global pandemic,’ acknowledges Cech.

‘It would have been a spectacular return for him because although he only stayed there for a season, you could see how much he meant to the team and team-mates from the first game [between Chelsea and Rennes] when he walked off after the final whistle. It just shows how big a mark he left only having been there one year.’

Cech was a Rennes player for two seasons before moving to Stamford Bridge in 2004. So how did a 20-year-old from the Czech Republic end up playing in north-west France?

‘It was an absolutely brilliant two years,’ he recalls. ‘When I came to the club the ambitions were high. Mr [Francois-Henri] Pinault was helping the club get the financial backing.

‘Three-quarters of the stadium was built and the last stand was still under construction but you could feel the support. You could feel how much the club tries to improve and challenge for the highest positions in the league.

‘When I spoke to Philippe Bergeroo, who was the manager at the time, and Pierre Dreossi, who was the sporting director, they presented the project of wanting to qualify for the UEFA Cup, then go step by step to challenge for the title. That was one of the reasons why, when I saw all the projects, I decided to go to Rennes and be part of it.

‘In the first season we played the last game of the season to stay up, so everything went in the complete opposite way to how it was planned but, at the same time, I had an absolutely brilliant season. I was saving the team pretty much every game and I think it’s probably why people suddenly realised that I contributed probably the most to staying in Ligue 1.

‘The second season we improved a lot and we finished in the top half, and then from there, gradually the team was getting better and better and better and it’s been a pleasure to watch the club getting through the Europa League to the Champions League now.’

Cech was so good at Rennes that Chelsea reached an agreement midway through that second season to bring him to London, and his stellar career with us would soon begin, but he sees the stage before as vital to his development.

‘The second season we improved a lot and we finished in the top half, and then from there, gradually the team was getting better and better and better and it’s been a pleasure to watch the club getting through the Europa League to the Champions League now.’

Cech was so good at Rennes that Chelsea reached an agreement midway through that second season to bring him to London, and his stellar career with us would soon begin, but he sees the stage before as vital to his development.

‘When I was 19, I’d already played 12 games in the Champions League for Sparta Prague and then started playing for the national team. Then when I moved to France, that was a completely different level for me because it was the first time I’d moved to a foreign country. I couldn’t speak the language and when you move to a place where you don’t understand a word of the language, everything becomes a little bit more complicated.

‘So I learned to adapt to a different country, a different style of training, different football, learning a new language, learning a new culture, and that helped me with the transition from France to England.’
 

‘When I was 19, I’d already played 12 games in the Champions League for Sparta Prague and then started playing for the national team. Then when I moved to France, that was a completely different level for me because it was the first time I’d moved to a foreign country. I couldn’t speak the language and when you move to a place where you don’t understand a word of the language, everything becomes a little bit more complicated.

‘So I learned to adapt to a different country, a different style of training, different football, learning a new language, learning a new culture, and that helped me with the transition from France to England.’
 

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