Carlo Cudicini: A Chelsea cult hero

The life of a Chelsea player is one that has its superb ups, such as winning the Champions League in 2012, and downs, last season’s flirting with mid-table mediocrity. Hundreds of millions of pounds have been thrown at the team, and they have returned every single one of the top trophies that England and Europe have to offer. However, before the billions of Roman Abramovich bought Chelsea, there was a modest transfer that captured the hearts of the Blues’ fans.

Carlo Cudicini was an integral part of the build up to the club that stands today. Cudicini began his career at Chelsea through a loan spell from Italian side Castel di Sangro. He did not prove to be an immediate hit though, only making three appearances under Gianluca Vialli.

That did not deter Chelsea from signing him though, as they picked him up for an absolute steal at £300,000. Of course, at the time, that sort of money could have probably bought Greenland, but Chelsea were happy to not have the polar bears on their wage books, instead opting for an injury prone Italian.

Cudicini battled with Ed De Goey in his first season as a full Chelsea player, with the latter living up to his surname, proving a sticky customer for Cudicni to be rid of, as they shared 38 league appearances between them. Following this though, in the 2001/02 season, he was voted the player of the season by the fans, reflecting his importance to the struggling team. The awards kept coming for the goalkeeper too, as he won the Premier League goalkeeper of the season award in 2002/03.

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However, to perhaps truly understand why he is a cult hero at Chelsea, it is best to look at the two things he did best, during his time at the club.

Firstly, he will be fondly remembered for his penchant for saving penalties. Amazingly, Cudicini saved two penalties in the space of a week in 2001, as he kept out efforts from Sunderland’s Kevin Phillips and Liverpool’s Gary McAllister, while he also notably saved efforts from Arsenal’s Theirry Henry and Manchester United’s Ruud van Nistlerooy. His small frame for a goalkeeper made him no less imposing as his agility and cat-like reflexes made him incredibly difficult to beat, both in open play and from the spot.

He managed to save six out of the 12 penalties he faced while at Chelsea, a superb record for the Italian. However, he will probably be remembered best for his bench warming abilities and his refusal to move away from the club he made his name at. After Jose Mourinho’s arrival in 2004, the new manager chose to buy Petr Cech from Rennes. This signalled the beginning of a very long and very drawn out end for Cudicini, an end that some say is still going on.

Initially, the two battled for the number one jersey before Cech asserted himself as first-choice. However, instead of moving on in search of first-team chances, the Italian decided to stay with Chelsea. This went on for a mammoth five years, with Cudicini happy to warm the bench for his club. In fact, he was seen as having so little ambition, that he was named as the ‘world’s most unambitious footballer’ by The Daily Telegraph in 2008.

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Perhaps Cudicini’s status as a cult hero is not for what he was able to achieve on the pitch, but for how warm he kept Chelsea’s bench, something that will have saved Abramovich a lot of money in expensive seat warmers.

The lasting memory of the Italian though, is his superb reaction save form Dimitar Berbatov in Chelsea’s 4-4 draw with Tottenham at White Hart Lane in the 2007/08 season. This memory may have been slightly soured though, considering the Italian joined Spurs a few seasons later.

What many people often glaze over when it comes to Cudicini is the raw talent he possessed, and displayed at different periods while with Chelsea. His injuries hampered him hugely, and he was not helped when Petr Cech, one of the best goalkeepers in Premier League history, was brought in by Mourinho.

Despite his problems, Cudicini was a constant peripheral presence that would step forward whenever he was needed. The fans always hugely appreciated the goalkeeper and he was a far safer pair of hands than most second-choice goalkeepers are – Ross Turnbull and Henrique Hilario we are looking at you.

It is likely that Cudicini could have sat on the bench for every game of his career, but he would still have been remembered fondly for THAT save against Tottenham, as it kept Chelsea’s title hopes alive and kept Tottenham at arms reach.

If ever there was a player that Chelsea fans would want in goal to face a 94th minute penalty, it was Carlo Cudicini. While he may not have ever lived up to his potential, he is a club hero at Chelsea and a man that has surely left a distinct imprint on one of the seats on the Stamford Bridge bench.