Carlo Cudicini admits he feared Thierry Henry, talks Petr Cech love and says Spurs can challenge top four
Carlo Cudicini discusses Bridge memories and Reading horror
Carlo Cudicini spent a combined 11 seasons in the Premier League, mainly with Chelsea where he twice won the FA Cup and League Cup before moving to London rivals Tottenham.
Ahead of the launch of Sunday’s 5-A-Side-Bet on Aston Villa v Chelsea, the Italian spoke exclusively to Ladbrokes about his time at Stamford Bridge, that fateful game against Reading in 2006 when both he and Petr Cech were stretchered off, why he turned down the chance to represent England and his thoughts on Spurs finishing in the top four under Antonio Conte.
But the former goalkeeper, back at Stamford Bridge as a technical coach with the club’s loan players, got the interview started by revealing the man he hated playing against most of all.
I feared playing against Thierry Henry
I had the pleasure of playing alongside one of the best Premier League strikers of all time in Didier Drogba. I had to face him every single day in training and it’s so easy to see why he’s so highly rated. I then played against him in the FA Cup when I signed for Tottenham – he scored against me in the semi-final. Having trained with him for all those years at Chelsea, I can only sympathise with every goalkeeper who has ever had to face him.
Aside from my team-mates, it’s hard not to mention Ruud van Nistelrooy when I think about the toughest opponents I’ve come up against. He just had this unbelievable way of always seeming to be on the end of any ball that was put into the box. Somehow he was always in the right position, and that’s what made him so special.
But for me, the one name I’m not afraid to say I feared was Thierry Henry. A lot of people don’t like to use that word ‘fear’ in football, but I absolutely hated playing against Thierry Henry. He was a genius in so many ways. He was so unpredictable and so difficult to read. His speed and intelligence were second to none – he had everything.
At that time, it was Arsenal and Chelsea who were always battling it out at the top of the table, so whenever we played them it was a huge occasion, and you just knew he was the sort of player who thrived under those circumstances. I played quite a few times against him and I don’t think I’ve come up against anyone better.
I’ve never watched the Reading game back; I just remember waking up in an ambulance
I’ve never watched that Reading game back from 2006, and I don’t think I ever will. Funnily enough I stumbled across pictures from the game just recently, but I’ve never watched the match. It was a bizarre game in which, thankfully, things weren’t much, much worse for myself and for Petr [Cech].
Everyone says that in the moment, my injury looked worse than Petr’s, but no one knew what was happening to him off the pitch after that incident. It was a really strange game to be a part of. Obviously Petr had the worse outcome of the two of us and was out of the game for some time. It really is a testament to him that not only did he recover, but he went on to have such a fantastic career after that.
I’ve never seen anything like it in any football match since. I lost consciousness almost immediately and I woke up in the ambulance on the way to the hospital. The first image I had was a really scary one because I had the face of our doctor right in front of me and they weren’t exactly a good-looking doctor, so I was a bit shocked!
Then I realised where I was, and the doctor explained to me what had happened, and after that initial shock, I have to say that I was fine – it was just a matter of going through some tests, sleeping in the hospital and then I went back home to recover. I had to follow the protocol of no training for a week, which I was actually really frustrated about because I felt fine and I ended up missing some big games. It’s horrible because you never want it to work out like this, but Petr’s absence meant I had an opportunity for some game-time, but I wasn’t allowed to play, which obviously upset me.
John Terry was always going in goal in training and would have loved that Reading game
The circumstances in which it happened were horrible and unfortunate, but I’m sure JT [John Terry] would have loved that moment when he got to play in goal after myself and Petr [Cech] went off injured. He always liked to put the gloves on at the end of our training sessions and take a few shots. He was decent, that’s probably the best I can say about him!
JT is just that guy; his approach to these sorts of things is admirable. He embraced any challenge, and this was just one of them. As soon as there was a chance he could go in goal, that was it, he took his gloves, he took a shirt and threw himself in goal for a few minutes. He’s not having the clean sheet, though – that was a team effort!
Why I love Petr Cech
My relationship with Petr Cech was born from the Goalkeepers’ Union, something which is massive here in England where we always look out for one another, but we very quickly became good friends.
We worked so closely with each other every day for all those years at Chelsea, competing against each other. The reason why we always appreciated each other – at least from my side – not only as players but as human beings, was because we shared the mentality and values.
Working hard, regardless of the talent, what’s important is how seriously you take your job. Every day on the pitch you must work hard, you must be professional. These are things that I grew up with, and obviously I’m older than Petr, but since he joined Chelsea, he had these important values, and those are what stood out to me in particular. Those values brought us together.
With that, our friendship developed, and we’re now both back at the club together once again. Regardless of where we were in our careers, we always kept in touch – and it’s great they we get to do that even more nowadays as colleagues. We truly respect each other and that’s very important in any friendship.
Here’s why I saved 36.6% of penalties faced
I generally had a good record when it came to saving penalties throughout my career, and I put it down to two main things. First of all, I studied a lot. Every goalkeeper and goalkeeping coach has their own way. Some goalkeepers are simply instinctive and they read the moment when they’re in it, but I was always analytical. I like to study penalty takers. Every season, starting in July, I was taking notes of penalty takers – especially in pre-season.
Penalty takers give a lot away on pre-season tours, so I always went out of my way to find out how teams were getting on and where players were putting their penalties. I created a book every season where I made notes – it’s something I did off my own back.
Of course, we’re talking about 15 or 20 years ago; it’s a lot easier now to get that sort of information if you’re a goalkeeper because pretty much every match is accessible to watch. But at that time, I’d regularly be reading match reports from games I couldn’t watch, and I’d be looking for things like ‘scored to the goalkeeper’s left’ or ‘missed to the right’, so I’d put all of that information into my notes.
That was one important aspect I believed was useful to me. But also, of course you’re always going to have a bit of a feeling as to where the striker is going to put the penalty.
I always believe that a player taking a penalty in the first minute versus a player taking one in the last minute is completely different. It’s the same as taking a penalty when you’re 3-0 up versus when you’re drawing 0-0 and you’re potentially scoring the winner. They’re completely different scenarios, and with that comes a completely different approach from the taker. It’s a different pressure. As a goalkeeper, you have to be able to understand and read the situation.
In my experience, if I was facing a penalty from a player who always puts the ball to my right, but his team is 3-0 up, I can quite confidently say he’s going to try something different because the pressure is off. But if it was 0-0, in the 89th minute, in my opinion, nine times out of ten, he’ll go for his favourite corner; the area he’s most used to putting the ball.
As far as my physical characteristics went, I wasn’t the biggest of goalkeepers, so I had to play to my strengths. I was explosive and reactive, and that helps in penalty shoot-outs. When someone is shooting from 12 yards away, you have to be able to react quickly, and that was something I was always good at. Those things combined helped me to become quite a successful goalkeeper whenever I faced a penalty.
Playing for England? At the time it just didn’t feel right to me
First of all I must say it was an honour to hear that the FA wanted me to represent England – I know the story did the rounds in the media at the time and it was a very proud moment for me. Coming from one big footballing nation in Italy to another in England, and to feel wanted by that nation to represent them is something you can’t not be proud of.
People wanted me to play for England and that’s a special feeling, but there was no way I was going to play for a country that wasn’t my own.
There have been plenty of other situations where players born in one country end up playing for another, but for me it just wouldn’t have been right.
It’s funny because at the time I’d only been in the country for maybe three or four years, but now I’ve been in the country for almost 21 years. I’ve spent as much time in England as I have in Italy and this is very much my home now, and I suppose now I might look at things differently. But at the time it just didn’t feel right for me to play for a country I wasn’t born in, nor had spent much time playing in.
Top four? I know Antonio Conte far too well to rule out Tottenham
Manchester City, Liverpool and Chelsea are battling it out in the top three places in the Premier League at the moment, but it’s a difficult one to guess who will finish the season in fourth.
The way Arsenal started the season, I wouldn’t have put a penny on them being anywhere near the Champions League places, but clearly it looks like Mikel Arteta has managed to find a winning formula now and they’re playing very well… they deserve to be up there in the table.
I think Manchester United are still in a bit of a transition phase, so it all depends on how quickly they can click and start picking up points again.
I wouldn’t rule out Tottenham Hotspur, though, only because I know Antonio [Conte], and I know what he’s capable of doing with that team. There were rumours about Antonio Conte taking over in the summer, so I can’t say I was too surprised when he eventually took over the club after Nuno Espirito Santo. But that being said, I must admit I thought he would end up at Manchester United. I’m not saying the United job is bigger than the Tottenham one, but United were going through a really tough patch and there are only a handful of managers who you would expect to go in there, of which Antonio is one. I thought something may have happened there.
Antonio loves the Premier League, I know that. I know him so well and I can’t write Tottenham off at all, simply because of the manager.
It would be easy to say Harry Kane’s game is going to improve under Antonio, but I think it’s more of a general impact he’ll have on the club. The team will benefit by his way of coaching, his attention to detail, his tactical knowledge, his experience and his passion. It’s a great cocktail, and while this is obviously a team which needs additions, without a doubt, the players will respond well to Antonio.
In my experience, when you have a manager who shows you passion on the sidelines, and passion every day in training, you can only get better as a player.