When you say Jiří Sedláček, first thing that comes to Petr’s mind is a meticulously cleaned car: “You could eat off of the floor.” Former Blšany coach smiles: “I would always drive four players to practice and they all thought they could just open a chocolate bar, a pack of biscuits or even a baguette and have a snack in the car. Well, they were wrong. Not in my car, gentlemen! I’m not a driver for pigs! I am nitpickingly tidy, it’s true.”
Sedláček is not a coach anymore, not in his beloved Teplice, not in Blšany, not even in the Roudnice high school. He’s seventy-five years old now, has five grandchildren, three great-grandchildren and a myriad of memories.
Was Petr one of the messy guys?
No, on the contrary: he always had his things arranged in neat stacks. You know, I get peeved when I see today’s players after the match: they throw their stuff all over the floor, even the band-aids, kick off their muddy football boots and never care who’s going to clean it up. Petr never used to do that, I remember it very well. If he had, I would have told him off. He knew there were rubbish bins in the dressing room and that mud stays outside. He was very neat, humble and very well-behaved. I met his parents too, and I told them: “If he’s patient, he can do great things.”
What else do you remember? He came to Blšany as a teenager, and…?
And it was immediately clear that he knows what he wants. His attitude was spotless: no talking back, he went and did everything he had to, he was dutiful and gave it his all. And he had all a goalkeeper ought to have: the build, the height, reflexes, the agility.
How long did it take for him to settle in?
Look, Blšany were a great club for young players because they trusted them. Mr Beránek, the head coach, wasn’t afraid to give them a chance to show what they’ve got. That’s how young Aleš Chvalovský got to play in the goal, and also Petr after that.
What did he do to convince you of his talent? You spent every day together…
He convinced me immediately, in everything he did. He knew how to control the penalty area, how to bock all the angles, he was good at estimating and at directing the defenders. I never had to tell him that the most important thing is to talk to the guys!
So no downsides?
Just a little problem with crosses, which – if I’m allowed to say that – he still has until today.
What did you work on the most?
On the angles, we needed to keep him moving, and moving fast on his feet. You know, some goalkeepers, when they move, they lift their feet as if they’re stepping over something, but that’s wrong: you need to slide your feet so that you don’t stagger and get to the right angle in time. And Petr was a good student. He also had great foundations that he learned in Plzeň; all we needed to do was to work on improving them. For example for him to remain standing for as long as possible when an attacker is running head-on to the goal. Just keep standing, don’t go down, don’t make it easier for the striker: keep your legs closed, your hands down, stand on your tiptoes.
Were you surprised by his confidence in the league?
I don’t want to sound like a know-it-all, but Petr was so immensely talented, there was no other way for him than to shine. I remember the summer of 2001 when he left for Sparta. Then Sparta came to play here, but they left Petr on the bench and Blažek was in the goal instead. He conceded three goals within the first 25 minutes, so after the match I came up to Petr and told him: “Don’t worry, next time you’re going to be in the goal!”
It took two more games, but essentially, you were right.
I said so to Ivo Viktor, who was the goalkeeping coach with the national team: “You’re going to train our Petr Čech pretty soon.” He didn’t believe me.
Are you surprised that Petr is still one of the best at thirty-six?
With his perfectly professional attitude? Not at all. I was still playing at thirty-eight and people used to shout at me: “Hey, grandpa, get the hell out already!” I was fifty when I helped Kadaň advance into a higher division as a reserve goalkeeper. Once you have it, you never lose it. The reflexes I mean. Petr can easily play at top level until he’s forty, because he’ll never become stunted. He keeps working on his skills, and at the same time he can use all his ample experience.
When was the last time you saw each other?
Many years ago, that’s for sure! He hasn’t forgotten, he’s just got so much work and responsibilities, I guess.
Do you defend him when he makes a mistake?
I try to. I go to a pub twice a week and the moment I step in the door, I hear: “He should have caught that!” But it’s hard to explain to people that you can’t catch everything. You make one small step to the side in the goal so that you get a better view in the huddle of players, and you see a striker taking a kick, and suddenly the ball flies in from somewhere else entirely. It’s a matter of a split-second.
P.S. The following chapter coming up next week!