Neville Southall, the Welshman who won the European Cup Winners’ Cup with Everton, was the last goalkeeper to have won the Football Writers Award (FWA). That was in 1985, the same year the Merseyside outfit lifted the continental trophy.
That was 28 years ago, the last time the journalists- some of whom cover around 60 football games a season- deemed a goalkeeper worthy of being crowned the most outstanding player of the year. It is quite an astounding data that clearly indicates the subdued treatment the position of the goalkeeper has enjoyed in the hands of the writers. Pity.
It is a situation that is extended to the defenders, with the last winner of the FWA being former Liverpool star, Steve Nicole who took the honour in 1989. So it is obvious the beautiful game is defined by beautiful goals yet some of the brilliant moments in the sport have involved great contributions from the back men, with high catching saves from goalkeepers and superb interventions from defenders.
Chelsea needed Demba Ba’s classy finish to advance to the semi-final of this year’s FA Cup on Monday at Stamford Bridge against United but they would remember even more the brilliant heroics of their legendary goalkeeper, Petr Cech. Cech, who was wearing the skipper’s armband in the absence of John Terry and Frank Lampard, made two world class saves to deny Javier Hernandez.
Hernandez’s first strike had a wicked swerve that displaced the Blues number one, only for the Czech international to make an acrobatically instinctive save to clear the ball with his right foot. But the second was a competent contender for the “moment of the game”- a strong left palm to divert the Utd’s striker brilliant header over the top of the bar.
That second save was an epitome of Cech’s remarkable contribution to Chelsea’s successful era in the last decade under Roman Abramovich. His two saves underlined his significance in those exploits than a passing recognition.
Chelsea’s expansive style have seen them score 59 goals in the Premier League this season and conceded 32, yet Cech has had to account for 99 saves from 28 games to salvage the team (Manchester City’s Joe Hart has only 48 saves from 30 matches). The legendary goalkeeper has made 180 saves in all competitions for the Blues this term, continuing from where he stopped last season.
Last November, he recorded 10 saves in a group game against Juventus, despite the Blues’ 3-0 loss in Turin, a landmark performance for a single Champions League game but no one reckoned with his heroics, not least as the defeat led to the sack of manager Roberto Di Matteo.
Cech’s 58 saves were instrumental to his club’s UEFA Champions League success yet Didier Drogba’s contribution still appear to enjoy better fond memories. Without underestimating Drogba’s exploits in the run, Cech deserved even more plaudits for his performances against Barcelona as well as in the final victory over Bayern Munich.
Drogba scored two goals in the three games; two-legged semis and the final. But Cech made nine saves in both games against Barcelona and saved three penalties in the final, including the one conceded by the Ivorian striker in extra time.
Much has been written about Franco Zola’s greatness and Frank Lampard’s goalscoring consistency in Chelsea’s remarkable success since the 2004/2005 season, but Cech must be considered in the same line of achievement. Bought for only £7million from Rennes of France, the Blues goalie has survived life-threatening injury problems to remain the club’s undisputed top safe hands.
Even for the current campaign, Cech has had to cope with elbow injury to be available for Chelsea, with a surgery postponed till the end of the season to correct the problem. His consistency has left the club’s new acquisition, Belgium’s Thibaut Courtois to continue his loan spell at La Liga side, Atletico Madrid, despite the later’s remarkable progress as a top goalkeeper.
Cech’s off the field personality is also admirable, an erudite man who is competent in several languages and enjoyed the profile of one of the most recognisable faces in the game. He’s been voted his country’s best footballer consecutively since 2008 after first claiming the gong in 2005.
No doubt when the folklore of Chelsea is being written by men of history, Big Pete must take his deserved position as a legend of Stamford Bridge who symbolises greatness as a footballer and a role model for the sport.
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