Safe Hands

Most Chelsea fans, whether they’ll admit it or not, almost take Petr Cech for granted.

The Czech custodian has been first choice at Stamford Bridge for six years since joining from Rennes, suffering his fair share of injuries along the way, but in 2010-11 he has been back to somewhere near his best form.

At 28, he has many, many years ahead of him, but that doesn’t mean that the coaching staff at Stamford Bridge have fallen into a state of complacency. Far from it.

The goalkeeping ranks at Cobham are perhaps the best stocked of all positions, with intriguing, novel and forward-thinking ideas in training and impressive coaching down the ranks.

Hilário currently fills a role as a generally dependable backup, whilst Ross Turnbull – like it or not – has improved greatly since joining from Middlesbrough. He still has a long way to go, but the club likes his potential and continue to develop him patiently.

Beyond Christophe Lollochon’s immediate first-team remit, however, lies a group of young stoppers largely under the tutelage of former Leeds goalkeeper Mark Beeney.

Having delved into non-league management briefly at the end of his playing career, Beeney started working with the club’s academy in the early part of the decade and became full-time in 2003, working with the youth team’s young men between the sticks.

Many have come and gone, but Rhys Taylor, Sam Walker, Jan Sebek and Jamal Blackman have all benefitted hugely from Beeney’s experience and expertise, and all can look forward with some confidence to a bright future in football.

Taylor, a Wales Under-21 international who has had call-ups into the senior squad, divided opinion amongst Blues reserve followers as a teenager in the second string, but is currently on loan at Crewe Alexandra, gaining valuable playing time in professional football.

He has largely been excellent, saving half a dozen penalty kicks and being a strong presence behind a sometimes shaky back four. Alex fans aren’t always best pleased that Steve Phillips – a club owned player – has been cast aside in favour of a player they will lose at the end of the campaign, but manager Dario Gradi has placed his confidence in the Welshman and believes in him.

Jan Sebek’s time at Chelsea has been a little up and down, and rarely short of injury, but the giant Czech has struck up a good relationship with compatriot Cech and is another who is ready for a loan in the adult game.

With his contract up at the end of the season, the club has a decision to make, but it would be wise to keep hold of a young man who has looked impressive at times. There has been the odd shaky moment but all players will experience that whilst developing.

Sebek shows fine fundamentals and is an adept shot-stopper, whilst possessing the body and frame to compete amongst older players immediately. He has served as backup goalkeeper for the first team on occasion and is ready to do so again should he be called upon.

Then there’s Sam Walker, the tallest of the lot, who was signed from Millwall in 2006. He too took some time to get going but had a sensational 2009-10 season which culminated in a reserve team debut and an FA Youth Cup winners medal.

Another who has earned promotion to the travelling first team squad here and there, Walker perhaps possesses the greatest potential of the lot. The main flaw in his game is his kicking, which is perhaps easier to work on than other areas, but otherwise he looks the part.

The good work has continued this season with Jamal Blackman. An oustanding athlete who also stands at well over 195cm tall, he has worked extensively with Les Cleevely in the schoolboy ranks (Les is another who deserves outstanding credit) and in his first year as a scholar, has taken his game onto the next level.

Called upon to play at reserve team level at the age of 16, he has been undaunted in his tasks to date, and earned an England Under-19 call-up late in the calendar year.

Blackman’s kicking – particularly from a moving ball – needs work but he is a smart goalkeeper who has kept Chelsea in many matches this academy season. His cool demeanour and excellent communication leads the defence in front of him, and he also lends a hand in leading the counter attack, possessing a huge throw which can cover fifty yards with ease.

Beeney’s young son Mitchell has also taken the first steps into Under-18 football, playing in the pre-season and serving as backup goalkeeper to Blackman whilst keeping net for the Under-16 side.

The club also owns Croatian prodigy Matej Delac, who is currently kicking his heels on the bench at Vitesse Arnhem after leaving Inter Zapresic in the summer. Highly rated in his homeland, many have great hopes for a player considered the finest talent from Croatia since Luka Modric.

He is yet to spend notable time on site in England though, and is currently under the guidance of Vitesse’s Raimond van der Gouw, the former Manchester United goalkeeper.

With Cech possibly having another twelve years in him – goalkeepers can play on much, much longer than outfielders tend to – there’s a strong chance that none of the aforementioned ever set foot on the pitch in Chelsea colours. That’s not the point here though.

The remit of the academy is to develop young boys into capable footballers, either to use themselves or send on elsewhere into the football world capable of handling themselves and earning a career.

Lollichon, Beeney, Cleevely and others have done a sterling job with the club’s goalkeepers, and should any of them prove themselves ready, or indeed be called upon in an emergency, you can be sure that the team will be in safe hands.