Petr Cech knows where the questions are leading. He knows Thibaut Courtois is the elephant in the room.
Courtois is actually in Spain, on loan at Atletico Madrid, where he’s been for three years, but Jose Mourinho says he will return to London and this has clear implications for Cech, Chelsea’s undisputed No 1 goalkeeper for a decade.
Cech’s standards are more exacting than ever. He has set a club record for clean sheets this season, passed 100 Champions League appearances and his penalty-saving heroics from the 2012 final are being cast in stone by adidas.
He has conceded just a single goal at Stamford Bridge in 2014. His form is good and yet only one goalkeeper can play. Cech is a legend at 31 and an intelligent and authoritative dressing-room voice.
Courtois is 10 years his junior, in equally impressive form and could be Chelsea’s goalkeeper for the next 15 years. Before he tackles this, Cech confronts what he sees as a couple of common misconceptions.
First, that the notion of competition will be new to him. ‘I had Carlo Cudicini behind me when I came here, the best goalkeeper in the Premier League at the time,’ said Cech. ‘When Ross Turnbull played for Middlesbrough he was a big English prospect and he really improved here.
Second, that his personal style is old-fashioned, that he stays on his line, a relic of the days before goalkeepers were encouraged to leave the comfort of their penalty areas to sweep behind the back four.
‘This amazes me,’ said Cech. ‘It absolutely makes me laugh. People say I’m the old- fashioned goalkeeper who doesn’t really like to sweep. If you look how high I play on the field, regarding any goalkeeper I can remember, nobody plays higher than I’m playing.
Before settling down to chat, he has been doing a training drill, collecting crosses in a goalmouth cluttered with training dummies. As the ball sails into his airspace, someone lifts a cone and its colour corresponds to an area on the pitch where Cech has to despatch the ball as soon as he has caught it.
Cech conceded three goals in a Champions League quarter-final in Paris on Wednesday and had to shoulder at least some of the blame for one of the goals. He challenges himself daily. He thinks about his game, seeking new ways to improve.
Sometimes Chelsea’s goalkeeping coach, Christophe Lollichon, will fire tennis balls during a regular shooting drill with footballs.
‘If you are a goalkeeper who started playing at eight years old, saving a routine shot doesn’t make you improve,’ said Cech.
‘You can shoot 50 shots and it is easy. Your brain reacts always the same way, but if you distract the brain, you have to make sure you’re doing everything in the right order.
And so to Courtois, the young Belgian who wants assurances that he will start the season at Chelsea on an equal footing with Cech before he agrees to extend a contract which is set to expire in 2016.
‘If, on the first day of pre-season, Thibaut Courtois is here, he is here,’ said Cech. ‘If he is not, he is not. It does not change anything. I will still have to do better than whoever else is here, to keep my place. It doesn’t change anything for me. You could ask John Terry or Gary Cahill about the very promising French central defender bought by the club.
‘If he comes back and he’s better than me, credit to him, well done to him, but who knows? I’m not afraid. I’m not a fool to think I’ve been here 10 years and I’ll be here another five, just because.
‘I am not playing because my name is Petr Cech. I’m playing because I’ve been playing well and because the manager thinks it improves the team with me in goal. I’ve never had a manager who would just put me in the goal because everybody was used to seeing me there.
Thibaut Courtois has been warned. Cech is not going to step aside and make it easy.