The month is July, the year 2004 and the Czech Republic have just beaten Denmark 3-0 to reach the quarter finals of the European Championship.

The side featured fearsome forward duo Jan Koller and Milan Baros, midfield dynamo Pavel Nedved and future Arsenal star Tomas Rosicky.

Between the sticks was a 22-year-old from Ligue 1 side Rennes by the name of Petr Cech.
Cech had already made over 70 appearances for the French club, a major player in their successful attempts to stay up in 2003/04.

Most importantly, however, he had secured a move to Premier League Chelsea for the 2004/05 season.

The Blues had, of course, agreed a deal to appoint then-Porto manager Jose Mourinho, who had two months prior to Cech’s arrival guided the Portuguese club to an unprecedented Champions League success.

Not many could have predicted the meteoric rise both Mourinho and Cech would enjoy together at Stamford Bridge.

And even fewer could have predicted that Cech would have arguably a better career than all four of his national teammates mentioned above.

For after 15 English trophies, a Champions League and Europa League triumph, four Premier League Golden Gloves and a Euro 2004 semi-final appearance, Cech announced his retirement from the game in January.

In a career spanning 20 years since his Sparta Prague debut in 1999, Cech became the first goalkeeper to keep 200 Premier League clean sheets and has over 100 caps for his country.

He kept a remarkable 25 clean sheets in the 2004/05 season as Chelsea won their first top division title in 50 years.

Reading v Chelsea, October 2006 – The Stephen Hunt Incident

His achievements are made all the more remarkable given the nature of the head injury he suffered in 2006.

The incident, well known by almost all English football fans, occurred in October 2006 in an away game at newly-promoted Reading.

In the first minute of the game, Cech rushed out of his box to claim the ball after an overhit goal kick from Reading goalkeeper Marcus Hahnemann evaded everyone.

He then collided with Stephen Hunt inside the area, the Reading forward’s knee hitting Cech’s skull.

Initially following the incident, Cech immediately signalled to the bench but was able to get to his feet.

He was able to crawl off the pitch but was clearly in major discomfort and was stretchered off.

His condition then deteriorated once he returned to Chelsea’s dressing room and an ambulance was quickly called.

After being taken to hospital, scans revealed he had a depressed skull fracture and that the accident could have killed him.

Thankfully, Cech has since made a full recovery from the injury, the cap that he has won ever since to protect his head becoming synonymous with the Czech goalkeeper.

Domestic Success & European Heartbreak

He returned to action just three months later and showed he hadn’t lost any of his goalkeeping ability, promptly going 810 minutes without conceding a Premier League goal.

In the FA Cup final at the end of that season, he kept a clean sheet at the new Wembley, he and Manchester United ‘keeper Edwin van der Sar becoming the first goalkeepers to keep clean sheets at the new Wembley in a 0-0 stalemate after 90 minutes.

He did go on to exclusively hold the record for going a whole game unbeaten, however, as a Didier Drogba goal gave Chelsea a 1-0 win.

Although Mourinho left Chelsea in September 2007, Cech played a key part in the side’s run to the 2008 Champions League Final under Avram Grant.

The game finished 1-1 in normal time, with Frank Lampard’s 45th minute goal cancelling out Cristiano Ronaldo’s opener.

It went all the way to penalties, with both teams scoring their opening two spot kicks.
Then up stepped Cech, diving to his right to deny goalscorer Ronaldo.

Had John Terry scored his now-infamous penalty, Chelsea would have gone on to win their first ever Champions League title.

United were the victors after Nicolas Anelka missed Chelsea’s second penalty of the night.

Despite such a gutting defeat, the titles kept on coming for Cech and Chelsea.

From 2008, Cech won the Czech Footballer of the Year award every year until 2014, while Chelsea lifted the Premier League once again in 2010 under the management of Carlo Ancelotti.

They scored 102 goals but only conceded 32 at the other end, Cech making 34 appearances in goal.

Ancelotti’s side completed the double at the end of the season, Cech once again keeping a clean sheet at the new Wembley in a 1-0 win over Portsmouth.

Redemption in Munich

The two trophies that still evaded Chelsea’s number one, however, were both European, but Cech would have chances to lift both of those trophies in the coming years.

The first chance came in what promised to be perhaps the most historic night in Chelsea’s history – a Champions League final against German giants Bayern Munich.

There were several similarities to that United game of 2008 – Avram Grant had only taken charge midway through that season, whereas in 2012 Roberto di Matteo had managed the club for just two months after the sacking of Andre Villas-Boas.

What he achieved in that time was unprecedented, given that his only two previous jobs had been with League Two MK Dons and West Brom, although he achieved promotion with the latter.

On May 5 the Italian guided Chelsea to the FA Cup final, where they beat Liverpool 2-1.
They were made definite second favourites for the final – the tie was to be played at Bayern’s own Allianz Arena.

The final was a cagey affair with few chances, although Bayern were mostly in control.
Cech was forced to make a key save from ex-Chelsea star Arjen Robben, deflecting his effort onto the crossbar.

He could do nothing about the eventual opener though, Thomas Muller heading the ball into the ground, over Cech and into the back of the net on 83 minutes.

With time quickly running out for Chelsea, it was up to Didier Drogba to head home from a corner in the 88th minute, a goal which eventually sent the game to penalties.

Remarkably, Cech guessed the right way for every single Bayern penalty.

Although Bayern’s first three penalties evaded him, he dived to his left to save Ivica Olic’s penalty, then repeated his heroics to deny Bastian Schweinsteiger.

The Olic save was made all the more critical by the fact that Juan Mata had missed the Blues’ opening penalty.

Unlike 2008, however, Chelsea didn’t buckle under pressure, Drogba converting his penalty to finally give the North London club that first European triumph.

Cech was awarded the Fans’ Player of the Match to cap off his greatest night in a Chelsea shirt.

With Cech entering his 30s, his travails in Europe were nowhere near over.

Cech played the full 90 minutes of the 2013 Europa League final, Branislav Ivanovic scoring the only goal against Benfica.

Move to Arsenal & more trophies

That was to be his last real highlight at Chelsea – they won the Premier League title again in 2015, but Cech made only seven appearances having been replaced as number one goalkeeper by Thibaut Courtois.

It was that demotion that made him seek a move to London rivals Arsenal, where he is set to conclude his playing days this summer.

He has made over 100 appearances for the Gunners over three and a half seasons, winning yet another FA Cup & two Community Shields.

His time as a goalkeeper may be coming to an end but given that Chelsea have already reportedly offered him a chance to join the club’s coaching staff, his football journey may not be over just yet.

And what a journey it has been.