Cech retires, beaten by the team he helped build
BAKU, Azerbaijan (AP) — As Eden Hazard celebrated in a huddle with his Chelsea teammates, Petr Cech stood to one side, staring straight ahead.
The last time Hazard and Cech played a Europa League final six years before, they won the trophy for Chelsea.
On Wednesday, Hazard had just scored Chelsea’s fourth goal, this time against Cech who was playing for Arsenal.
One of the greatest goalkeepers of his generation, the 37-year-old Cech had what seemed the ideal stage for his last game before retirement — a European final against the team where he had his greatest success.
Instead, he was on the wrong end of a 4-1 loss, which wasn’t the way he wanted to go.
But Cech said he was still proud after a string of saves to keep Chelsea from an even bigger margin of victory.
“I had to perform,” he told British broadcaster BT Sport. “I have to say I’ve done everything so I can look back and have no regrets about today — apart from the fact that we worked so hard during the whole year and in the end we have nothing.”
The four goals Cech conceded were the most for a goalkeeper in a Europa League final since Sevilla scored four against Middlesbrough’s Mark Schwarzer in 2006.
Cech could have missed the game altogether. Amid speculation he is due to take up a role as sporting director at Chelsea in the summer — something he hasn’t denied — some coaches would have wanted to avoid any hint of a conflict of interest.
Not Arsenal’s Unai Emery, even though Cech had been the backup to Bernd Leno for most games this season.
Still under contract with Arsenal, Cech wouldn’t comment on his future.
“I wanted to lift the trophy and then sit down and think. Until the 30th of June I’m still an Arsenal player,” he said. “So obviously until that point I won’t decide on anything.”
Cech’s career was almost very different.
Back in 2006, when he collided with Reading’s Stephen Hunt and received a serious head injury, it seemed doubtful he would ever play again. But with two metal plates inserted into his skull, and the rugby-style headgear which he’s worn ever since, Cech was back on the field three months later.
Cech retires a hero not only for Chelsea, where he won the Premier League four times and the Champions League once, but for his native Czech Republic.
“I’d like to thank Petr for everything he has done for Czech football,” Czech national team coach Jaroslav Silhavy told The Associated Press on Tuesday.
“His 124 international games clearly prove how important he was for the national team. And he proved his top class in England. I’m really glad that I had a chance to cooperate with him briefly. And at the same time I’d like to wish him the best for his next career, whatever it is.”
Karel Janicek in Prague contributed to this report.