Chelsea FC goalkeeper Petr Čech is expecting Club Atlético de Madrid to be "difficult to handle" when he gets a long-awaited first taste of the UEFA Super Cup on Friday.
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Chelsea FC goalkeeper Petr Čech can hardly wait to get his first taste of the UEFA Super Cup after helping his side clinch the UEFA Champions League title last season. The Czech Republic No1 is nonetheless expecting a stern examination in Monaco from a team he has looked at closely, UEFA Europa League holders Club Atlético de Madrid.
In the lead-up to the game, the 30-year-old reveals how a broken leg played a crucial role in his destiny, the importance of psychology to a keeper and his enduring respect for Iker Casillas and Gianluigi Buffon.
What are you most looking forward to about this game?
Petr Čech: I'm very happy to have this opportunity, because it's a match I've never played in. Now, after eight years of trying, I've managed to do it. It will be a great experience, and naturally I hope we'll lift the trophy.
What do you expect from Club Atlético de Madrid?
Čech: I've played against Atlético before, but since Diego Simeone's arrival in the dugout their playing style has changed. They're very disciplined, with an especially solid defence, and are difficult to handle on the counterattack.
Also, because they're a Spanish team, they all want the ball and feel comfortable on it. With this change of style, Atlético are much more dangerous than when we faced them in the 2009/10 Champions League. Success has helped them. They are very well-drilled so beating them won't be easy.
What is the significance of the UEFA Super Cup?
Čech: It's a very interesting match – the perfect introduction to the Champions League and Europa League seasons, and also it's intriguing to see the confrontation between the two current holders.
Prague will host the next UEFA Super Cup. What will this mean for the Czech Republic?
Čech: It's a big plus point for Czech football and the Czech Republic. The Super Cup is watched all over the world, and I'm glad Prague will host such an important game.
Chelsea won the silverware in 1998 when Monaco became the UEFA Super Cup's new home. You could now be the last team to win the trophy there ...
Čech: Chelsea were the last team to lift the FA Cup at the old Wembley and the first to win it at the new Wembley – if something similar happened in Monaco, nobody would be too angry.
You started out as a forward; how did you become a goalkeeper?
Čech: I ended up in goal by accident. When I was about eight, neither of the two goalkeepers showed up for a match, so somebody had to go in goal. As I like challenges, I said: "OK, I'll play this match in goal."
After the game, our coaches started to argue – one wanted me to play in goal, the other preferred me in attack. Then, when I was ten, I broke my leg playing as a forward and I've been in goal ever since. While I was out injured I couldn't run, but I could catch balls and train to speed up my reactions. In the end goalkeeping won. I've never regretted it.
What is the most difficult thing about playing in goal?
Čech: The mental stress – the pressure placed on the goalkeeper, especially in important matches. Perhaps not everybody can cope with the feeling that almost every mistake means a goal. That's one of the things that adds spice to our profession.
You have studied psychology in your spare time. Has that helped you on the pitch?
Čech: Psychology is a very important part of top-level sport, even more so if you're a goalkeeper. You can apply a lot of things you learn about psychology to sport, and it can help to get rid of the stress. I've learned to work in a way that, during the match, I don't care about anything other than my performance.
I don't worry about things I cannot influence. That's why I never celebrate goals and don't despair when we don't score a penalty. It's not my job on the pitch. It helps me to avoid excessive stress, because in my position I already have enough of it. Without my understanding of psychology, I probably wouldn't do this.
Which keepers did you admire when you were starting to play?
Čech: Oliver Kahn, Peter Schmeichel and Edwin van der Sar. Each of them had something inspiring, because they were all different characters. Then Gianluigi Buffon appeared and changed everything. Later, Iker Casillas was very interesting. He started to play for Real Madrid, historically one of the best teams in the world, at the age of 17 or 18. So I told myself: "OK, if he can play for a big club so young, age is not an obstacle. There is no reason why I cannot make it too."
Which goalkeepers do you admire today?
Čech: Definitely Buffon and Casillas. They've kept a consistent level of performance for more than ten years at the top for club and country. That's why they are still among the best keepers in the world.
Thibaut Courtois excelled at Atlético last season. What are his strong points?
Čech: He has very good self-control and great concentration for 90 minutes. He seems much more experienced than he is, so his great advantages are his head and mental strength. He can stay calm in decisive games – that's not easy at his age. He's tall, has very good reactions and is actually very quick, so it's hard to score against him.
Do you have a favourite save of your career?
Čech: I don't have a favourite. I have managed to make quite a few saves in important matches that have led my team to victory, but I can't pick out any of them individually as a favourite.