The Arsenal goalkeeper, at 35, has since established himself among the ranks of the shot-stopper elite. Having enjoyed a trophy-laden spell at Chelsea, he has etched himself into Premier League folklore as one of the competition’s finest and longest-serving goalkeepers.
Cech began his senior career with Chmel Blšany, later moving to Czech giants Sparta Prague aged 18 before signing with France’s Rennes in 2002. It was two years later Chelsea bought him in, for a then-record fee of £7 million.
Appearing on the Arsenal Weekly Podcast, the former Czech international named ex-Red Devils Schmeichel and Van der Sar as two of the most influential players he learned from as he began his career between the goalposts.
“You could see [Schmeichel’s] huge presence in the United goal,” Cech said.
“At the time he had a different approach to any other goalkeeper. Everybody played on the line – he was more advanced, more aggressive in his positioning, cutting down the angles.
“He was not afraid to take more risks. That was something you look at and think his presence and influence in the box was big.
“Edwin van der Sar, as well. When he started playing for Ajax, they used him as a defender when they needed to keep possession. In the difficult moments they’d pass it back to him – they’re the first team you see at the time using a goalkeeper as a member of a team for more than just goal-kicks and saving the ball.
“You realise that is the way forward. Why wouldn’t you use an extra player if you can? Nowadays it’s one of the basic skills a goalkeeper has to have.”
Buffon and Casillas made Cech realise “everything is possible”
Cech also made sure to pay tribute to Italian and Spanish goalkeeping legends Gigi Buffon and Iker Casillas, heroes not only with their respective clubs – Juventus and Real Madrid – but with their national teams as well.
He added: “Buffon, as well. He started very early. Iker Casillas, as well – he’s only one year older than me. I was thinking if he can play at 16, 17 at this level why can’t I? It gave me reassurances that everything is possible.”
The current Arsenal goalkeeper holds the record for the most Premier League clean sheets, with 199 – 77 more than the next active ‘keeper in the competition (Joe Hart), though he is still yet to match Van der Sar’s record of 14 straight games without conceding a goal.
Cech has arguably outperformed both Schmeichel and Van der Sar in the league, statistically, though that may be a result of his long innings in England, having spent 14 years in the country’s top tier.
Van der Sar spent 10 years in the division, with Fulham and United, winning four top-flight titles for the latter.
Meanwhile, Schmeichel was with the Red Devils for eight years, claiming five championship crowns.