Newcastle keeper Martin Dubravka will pull out all the stops to defeat his hero Petr Cech and Arsenal
PETR CECH might be starting to lose the backing of Arsenal supporters — but at Newcastle today the Gunners keeper will face his No1 fan.
The Toon goalkeeper even sent his hero a message after the Czech suffered his horror head injury playing for Chelsea at Reading in 2006.
Today, Dubravka will meet his opposite number Cech for a third time when Arsenal visit St James’ Park.
“When he had his head injury, I sent him a message on his official website. I was 17 at the time.
“The day before he got injured, I injured myself as well. I went for a cross and I hit the striker with my head. I was concussed.
“So I remember it well but he probably got thousands of messages and didn’t see it.
“I met him for the first time in 2010 in the Champions League against Chelsea when I was at Žilina in Slovakia.
“We spoke a little bit but I was looking at him and thinking, ‘I can’t believe I am playing against him’. We swapped jerseys after the game.
“Then we met last season again when he was at Arsenal. I asked him if he remembered me or not and he said, ‘Of course’.
“I was surprised because of how many keepers he must have met. It was nice of him to spend some time with me after that game and we changed jerseys again.
“I’d like him to sign them. I have a special place in my apartment where I hang up the jerseys.”
No doubt Dubravka will want another jersey for his collection following this afternoon’s clash.
But right now, Cech is desperately trying to hang on to his own No 1 shirt. The veteran, 36, has come under fire for his struggle to adapt to new boss Unai Emery’s demands that he plays the ball out from the back.
In Arsenal’s opening defeat to Manchester City, his hopeless attempted pass almost resulted in an embarrassing own goal.
Cech got in another pickle in this month’s win over Cardiff when he knocked the ball to Harry Arter, only for the midfielder to blaze over.
His mistakes have led to fans calling for the gloves to be handed over to £19.2million summer signing Bernd Leno.
Dubravka knows as well as anyone how the demands of top-level keepers are different these days.
The Toon star said: “In modern football, you need to play with the ball, not just kick it long.
“But my boss, Rafa Benitez, knows I like to play football.
“When I was younger, if there was something wrong with my hands I would play as a midfielder in training — and the coach would ask, ‘Why are you a goalkeeper?’.”
As well as his footwork, another of Dubravka’s great strengths is his communication skills.
Newcastle captain Jamaal Lascelles revealed his new team-mate was “bossing people about” in training as soon as he arrived, initially on loan, from Sparta Prague in January.
And Dubravka, who joined permanently for £4m in the summer, said: “When I was young, one of my coaches said, ‘If you are a good keeper, the coaches sitting in the stands need to be able to hear you if they close their eyes’.
“That was the advice and I said, ‘OK’. Sometimes I shouted too much when I was younger — even at the strikers who didn’t score.”
Dubravka is a deep thinker of the game and watches back every match he plays in so he can analyse his “every touch”.
He is also a big reader and admitted: “We spend so much time travelling that I always put a book in my bag.
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“I have read some autobiographies. My favourite was Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s — I was laughing so much.
“Alex Ferguson’s and Mike Tyson’s are very interesting. Tyson — there were a lot of dirty words there!
“But he was something special — he trained hard, even if he was crazy.”
Dubravka’s interest in fighting goes further than boxing legend Tyson. He explained: “I like Mixed Martial Arts. I trained once with a fighter — he was so big and powerful.
“Their sport is very dangerous but how hard they train is amazing. I like Conor McGregor’s attitude.”
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Dubravka and his Newcastle pals will need to show their own fighting spirit after a poor start to the season that has left them third from bottom.
But Dubravka is upbeat as they search for their first win today against Arsenal.
He added: “I don’t agree if anyone says we are not in good shape. We’ve played very tough opponents and in all of the games, they were very close.
“If we play like we did against Manchester City we can be successful. We have brilliant players and we have confidence.”