Petr Cech hopes a second successive tumultuous season can finish with a European trophy as Chelsea bid for victory over Benfica in tonight’s Europa League final in Amsterdam.
Four years after losing the Champions League final, the Blues won the trophy owner Roman Abramovich and the players coveted most, the European Cup. Now, a year on, they want more.
After suffering the ignominy of becoming the first holders to exit the Champions League before Christmas — a result which saw Roberto Di Matteo replaced by Rafael Benitez — Chelsea have a chance to redeem themselves tonight.
“So far it’s the highlight of my career because it was the Champions League final and with all the success I’ve had with the club, it was special having lost the final in 2008,” the 30-year-old goalkeeper said.
“Sometimes you don’t get a second chance. We got a second chance and we took it.
“It was a fantastic story and that’s why it ended the way it ended. It was just meant to be like that.
“Winning back-to-back European trophies, it would be a great story too, with more or less the same circumstances, having to change the manager during the course of the season again. Hopefully it will be the same end.”
A third-placed finish in Champions League Group E behind Juventus and Shakhtar Donetsk resulted in Chelsea’s elimination but they seized their second chance after falling into the Europa League, with wins over Sparta Prague, as well as Steaua Bucharest, Rubin Kazan and Basle.
“We were very disappointed with our campaign in the Champions League,” Cech said.
“We said the best way to forget about it was to have a go and try to go as far as possible in the Europa League.
“This club had never won it, because it’s the first time we’ve played in the competition (since it has been rebranded the Europa League). It would be great to add that trophy to the trophy room.”
Nevertheless, Cech hopes tonight’s match will be his last in the Europa League.
The Blues’ 68th fixture of the campaign will almost certainly be the penultimate competitive game for Benitez, who was an unpopular appointment among fans due to his prior association with Liverpool.
The Spaniard is close to fulfilling his targets — Chelsea’s Champions League return is all but confirmed and silverware would be welcome, too.
Cech added: “It was not easy for him, with the reception he got. [But] he came here to help and to improve the situation for us and to do as best as possible. That is what we did, what he did, what the coaching staff did.
“This is maybe the reason why it’s worked so far and we’re in the Europa League final.”
Benitez, who will have to do without the injured Eden Hazard and probably John Terry tonight, insists his critics will recognise he has been a success if the Blues win tonight.
“I want to win and if I can I will be really proud as we are working hard in very difficult circumstances,” he said.
“For me it is always important to win trophies, to do well and to make sure we have done a good job. When I go home I think we are doing a good job. People realise to be here at this stage of the competition means we have done a lot of things really well.
“At the moment I am working for Chelsea and I am trying to do my best in every game and every training so I will try to win until the end.”
Jose Mourinho is the hot favourite to replace Benitez, a development Cech would welcome.
“With Jose Mourinho we had great success and people still have great memories and admiration for him,” Cech said. “If he comes back, the story will be interesting for everyone. He will be more than welcome.”
Prior to the Champions League final last year, Cech told his wife the Blues would win, but he has stopped short of a prediction this time around, but he did say, “We need to get over the last hurdle. I have a great feeling,”
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