The next instalment in our series of interviews with some of Chelsea’s most noteworthy goalkeepers over the past few decades is Carlo Cudicini, who was recognised as the Premier League’s best keeper in 2003.
Considering his lineage, it should have come as no surprise that we had a great goalkeeper on our hands. Cudicini’s father, Fabio, remains a legend at AC Milan, earning the nickname Il Ragno Nero – the Black Spider.
That quality was clearly passed down to his son, although injuries stalled the younger Cudicini’s early progress at the top of the tree in Italy before he eventually established himself with Castel di Sangro.
A move to Chelsea followed in 1999 and, two years later, he was established as not only the Blues’ No1, but one of the most-talked about keepers in the Premier League, thanks largely to his outstanding agility and a fine record of saving penalties.
The bond between Cudicini and Chelsea supporters was never stronger than in 2002, when he was named Player of the Year at the end of a campaign crammed with physics-defying saves.
Although he lost his place as first-choice keeper to Petr Cech, Cudicini pushed the Czech to be the very best he could be and by the time he left for Tottenham in 2009 he had a number of medals to his name.
He returned to the club in a coaching capacity under Antonio Conte as the Blues became Premier League champions and is now a loan player technical coach.
Here are some of the best bits from an interview Cudicini did with Chelsea magazine while he was playing for LA Galaxy back in 2013.
You arrived in west London as a virtual unknown on these shores, but within a few years you established yourself as one of the Premier League's best goalkeepers. It was quite a dramatic rise.
I had come to Chelsea from a second division team in Italy and after the first year, when I only played a few games, everything changed. Suddenly I was the first choice. I'd been lucky enough to grow up at AC Milan, which gave me an opportunity to train and play with great players. Then I was in the same situation at Chelsea, playing behind great defenders like Marcel Desailly and Frank Leboeuf. So, I was very excited.
As well as playing for AC Milan, you were also known in Italy as the son of Fabio Cudicini, who was one of that club's greatest-ever keepers. Was there much pressure on you in your homeland to succeed at Chelsea?
No, not really. It's difficult to predict a career; everything started off really well for me and then I had bad injuries. Then, when they were finally behind me, my career took off again and Gianluca Vialli and Chelsea gave me the chance to join a great team. The first year enabled me to see what was going on, but then when Claudio Ranieri arrived I had a chance to perform and I deserved the spot I earned. Suddenly, everything turned around.
At the end of your first full season in the first team, you were named the club's Player of the Year, something that only three other goalkeepers had previously achieved.
It was an unbelievable moment for me. Don't forget, I'd been playing second division football just a few years before! The supporters were fantastic with me from day one and this award was the result of a great connection I always had with them. That day was emotional for me because you know how much your team-mates appreciate you, but to find out the supporters feel that way too is unbelievable. This award will always link me with the Chelsea supporters. I will always have a place in my heart for them.
A year later, you went one better – you were voted the best goalkeeper in the Premier League!
From being recognised by your own supporters to the whole of the division was another great award. It's special for me, because it's a personal one, and it was another step for me in my career. I remember being given that award on the day we qualified for the Champions League, which made it even more special.
Qualifying for the Champions League was such an immense achievement in 2003, at the end of a season in which we had spent no money on new signings.
There was a lot of pressure that season, but it was a great job by the manager and the team. Ranieri had the courage to put young players like John Terry into the team, and also myself because even though I wasn't young like John, I was inexperienced and unknown in England. He mixed up the team with experienced players and talented youngsters. We delivered a great season, which was finished off with a wonderful win over Liverpool on the final day to get into the Champions League.
Of those experienced players you touched upon, Gianfranco Zola was probably the longest in the tooth. It must have been wonderful to have him as a team-mate?
Gianfranco had an unbelievable career, especially at Chelsea, and everyone has said many things about him which I can only confirm. He was a great player on the field and an unbelievable person off the field – everyone loved him. He was so important in the dressing room because everyone listened to what he was saying; not only did he have the experience, but his character meant he approached people and said things to them in the right way.
It must have been nice to see the back of him at the end of that season, though, as I imagine he was a goalkeeper's nightmare in training...
[Laughs] His free-kicks were incredible! I've heard him called a magician, and he certainly was – you never knew what he would do when you were one-on-one with him, he always had a trick.
He's also one of many players from that particular era at Chelsea to have become a manager.
It's unbelievable to see how many of my old team-mates have gone into management. It just shows you how good that team was – there was not only one manager on the bench, but another eight or nine on the pitch. That helped the team win some big trophies for Chelsea.
Goalkeepers don't tend to go into management, though, it's usually a case of coaching other keepers. Why is that?
That's true, I know Ed de Goey and Kevin Hitchcock are both doing that. I think goalkeepers tend to stay in their little box! Once they quit, it's time to teach the youngsters. One thing I would say about English football is that there is a great goalkeepers' union. It's something that is part of the game – we stick together because we know how hard it is to be out there on your own. We share this pressure, this love for our position, by sticking together.
You lost your position as our first-choice goalkeeper when Petr Cech signed from Rennes in 2004. Is it any consolation to you that he has gone on to become arguably our greatest player in that position?
Yeah, for sure, it's a great consolation in a way. Petr is definitely one of the best goalkeepers in the world, and he has been since he started playing for Chelsea. He is so consistent, breaking record after record. He's not looked back since joining the club. I remember the summer he joined us, he had a great Euros for the Czech Republic and was still only 22.
He has often mentioned that he was pushed to excellence by having such a brilliant goalkeeper waiting in the wings behind him – if he slipped up, you were ready to take the gloves.
First of all, me and Petr had a great relationship and we are very good friends. In his first season here, he had the opportunity to be in the team and start in goal in, and he never gave it up. Only great players have that concentration and consistency.I was coming from two very good seasons and was expecting to play but, in football, expectation and reality are two very different things for a player! You always have to fight for your place and suddenly I was on the bench and not very happy with that.That didn't change my approach towards Petr or anyone else – he was still a great guy – so we worked hard together and pushed each other all the way. That was my aim – to push him harder, always keep him on his toes so he could perform in every game even better than the last.
Do you regret leaving Chelsea when you did?
I wouldn't say I regret it. There's always a start and an end to anything, and I thought it was time for me to leave and seek another fortune. I remember having a few problems with Luiz Felipe Scolari – then, funnily enough, a few weeks after I left, he went as well! But my contract was coming to an end soon and things were a bit strange, so I felt it was time for us to go our separate ways.
Most Chelsea fans would probably list Spurs as the team they dislike most, yet even after you went there, Blues supporters still loved you!
I know and I have to say I was surprised in a way, because I knew how much Chelsea fans hated Tottenham! But I also knew what they were like – how they were always behind me when I was playing for their club. This is another reason why Chelsea supporters will always be in my heart. I don't know how you say it in English, the thing which connects the baby to the mum... [Ed: The umbilical cord?] Yeah, the umbilical cord. There's something like that – and it will be with me forever.