Did split loyalties cost Petr Cech his final Arsenal match?
Background image: Investigation11111, CC BY-SA 4.0
Petr Cech came to Arsenal from Chelsea wanting to play. Jose Mourinho could no longer promise him time between the sticks so he made his way across London to continue his Premier League career. Early this season, the helmeted keeper announced he intended to retire effective from season's end.
This week, Cech announced he was exploring many options for the next stage in his life after rumours emerged he would return to Chelsea to work behind the scenes. He denied accepting the role but didn't rule it out as a possibility. That left a bitter taste in Arsenal supporters' mouths.
Weighing up a technical role with Chelsea makes for an incredible narrative. How many own goals will he score for the benefit of his new/old employer? In an era fixated with Game of Thrones, is Cech the Jamie Lannister of London football, [spoiler alert] running back to his lover at the very end no matter how he was exiled or whom he befriended along the way. His heart longs for Chelsea. He enters the crumbling castle for one sweet last embrace before the bitter end.
Again, the former Czech Republic captain went on record to say nothing was concrete but the rumour mill doesn't care. The very notion that contractual conversations took place before a European final between the two clubs is baffling to fans who don't see the game as a business. Given such sensitivity, Cech should have asked the Blues to call him after the final. For that matter, Arsenal’s training regime should be so intense that players have no energy or time for outside matters.
Cech’s tweet hints he made contact across the divide, talking to upper Chelsea management. Confirming even a fraction of the allegations only exacerbates the severity. Prior to these revelations, his Instagram account aroused suspicion regarding his true colours. “Destiny” is a powerful word. Even more powerful when your image is facing toward the Chelsea badge in the picture and gazing away from the Arsenal emblem, your back to Alexandre Lacazette, your fist raised in apparent unity with Eden Hazard. This is an age where secrets seep through digital content and conclusions are drawn from the tiniest clues.
Does it matter that the image is photoshopped and Cech almost certainly had nothing to do with it? No, it doesn't. English football fans aren't pragmatic. The entire Paul Pogba episode illustrates the fact. We are emotionally unstable, reactive in the extreme. It's in our DNA.
Nor is it just fans. I recently wrote how avenues had opened for Henrikh Mkhitaryan to play in the Azerbaijan final despite sensitivities regarding his Armenian citizenship. Without firm guarantees for his safety, the club subsequently elected to leave him behind rather than providing their own protection.
For the benefit of Arsenal football club, Petr Cech should remain behind with Mkhitaryan. His very presence in the stadium could be enough to put teammates off their game. Doubts may enter their minds upon seeing him on the team sheet or between the sticks after mulling an imminent reunion with the evening's opponent.
Supporters may effect the outcome as well. While a meagre ticket allotment was given to each club due to Baku's infrastructure issues, they could make enough noise booing and jeering the keeper to put his teammates off their game. No. He should be as far from the action as possible. Maybe the Pitcairn Islands, the only British overseas territory in the South Pacific. He can wear his helmet while there. If a coconut falls on his head, he'll be fine.