He had been doing that for almost a year when the pandemic struck. Suddenly, he found himself dragged back to a life he thought he had left behind. “We were lucky to be able to finish the season,” he said. “But nobody knew how many players would get the virus, and we had really strict numbers and restrictions. Normally, if a player gets injured, you would take someone from the academy, but because we had to be in bubbles, that was not possible.
“At one point, we were short a goalkeeper, so the solution was either I stepped in, or a goalkeeping coach did. I was fit, so I said OK.” It was intended as a precaution, a form of emergency cover, but Cech was still more than good enough to be a viable option. He was briefly registered on Chelsea’s squad list for the Champions League this season.
His primary focus, though, what all of his other interests must swirl around, is his new role. Cech is — by English soccer’s standards — something of a rarity. In certain parts of continental Europe, and especially Germany, it is not unusual for high-profile players to eschew coaching and move into front-office roles immediately after retirement: Marc Overmars and Edwin van der Sar at Ajax; Leonardo at Paris St.-Germain; almost the entire off-field hierarchy at Bayern Munich.
England is only now catching up. For the most part, where Premier League clubs employ a technical director, it is seen as a position for a recruitment specialist, someone who can navigate the choppy, unpredictable waters of soccer’s transfer market. Edu Gaspar, at Arsenal, and Cech, at Chelsea — both appointed last year, both with vast experience as top players — are exceptions.
For Cech, the appeal of the job lies in how different it is from playing. He had thought in great depth about what he would do after he retired. He had, he said, realized after fracturing his skull in 2006 that “it took only a split second for everything to be finished.” He knew he had to be prepared.
He studied for his coaching licenses while still playing — on international duty with the Czech Republic, he said, “there was always time” — but it occurred to him that coaches, essentially, live the same life as a player: “You spend time training, traveling, at games, in hotels. The routine is the same.”