Over the years Chelsea have had world-class players in every position. In modern times, legends, such as John Terry, Frank Lampard, Ashley Cole, Eden Hazard and Didier Drogba, have all won various honours while playing for the Blues. Looking further back in time, Gianfranco Zola, Jimmy Greaves, Peter Osgood and others have also achieved great things whilst wearing the blue shirt. But who are the club’s best-ever goalkeepers?
The man between the sticks is often the least heralded at any club, even though they often have the most direct involvement in affecting the outcome of a game. Chelsea have been blessed with some fantastic shot-stoppers over the years and here are the best three.
1. Petr Čech, 494 Appearances, 228 Clean Sheets
Czech ace, Petr Čech, has managed to survive a post-Chelsea move to Arsenal and remain a Blues legend – which shows just how good he was. Capped a massive 124 times by the nation of his birth, he moved to Chelsea from French side Rennes in 2004. Signed for £7m, he was the club’s most expensive goalkeeper ever at the time but looking back, that fee was a real bargain.
The former Sparta Prague keeper holds countless records but among the most relevant here are that he has kept more clean sheets than any other Chelsea goalkeeper and also boasts more shutouts in the Premier League than anyone else. His 228 clean sheets from 494 total appearances means he prevented a goal in over 46% of the Chelsea games he played in, a staggering stat.
In the Premier League, his record stands at 202 shutouts from 443 outings, his club winning 280 of those games – often without needing to score more than a single goal to do so. He conceded just 333 goals in those 443 games, so around 0.75 goals per game. Of course, Čech alone can’t take sole credit for that and having various great managers, including José Mourinho, Carlo Ancelotti and Guss Hiddink, certainly helped.
Čech played in great Chelsea teams too – he won four PL titles, four FA Cups, three League Cups, plus both the Champions League and the Europa League with the club. In front of him were top defenders such as Terry, Cole and Carvalho, plus midfield cover from the likes of Claude Makelele. But ultimately it is Čech who holds those clean sheet records and he who often pulled off stunning saves to preserve his side’s shutout.
In truth, though, the Czech international was not a flashy goalkeeper who liked to make saves. Moreover he was an organiser, who controlled his defence so that he (hopefully) wouldn’t be called into action in the first place. However, when he was, he was more than ready and was a brilliant all-round goalkeeper. In modern terms, he wasn’t great with the ball at his feet but he had no real weaknesses aside from that (debatable) one. He was an exceptional shot-stopper, rarely made errors (especially at his very peak), was sent off just once, was good in one-on-ones, and commanded his area superbly.
He won the PL Golden Glove award four times and whilst he never scored for Chelsea, he does have two Premier League assists to his name! Čech won the Under 21 Euros with his national side and was named in the senior Team of the Tournament at the 2004 Euros. Named Czech Footballer of the Year a record nine times, he was also named UEFA’s Best European Goalkeeper in 2005, 2007, 2008 and 2012. Čech was inducted into the PL Hall of Fame in 2023 and is undoubtedly the finest goalkeeper the Blues have ever had.
2. Peter Bonetti, 729 Appearances, 208 Clean Sheets
Bonetti made a massive 729 appearances for the Blues, split over two spells, the first from 1959 to 1975 and the second from 1976 to 1979, briefly playing in the USA in between. The Cat, as Bonetti was known, kept 208 clean sheets according to Chelsea’s official site. These two stats, 729 appearances, and 208 clean sheets, mean that this number one is very much a number two.
Bonetti is the Blues’ second-highest appearance maker and also second on their list of keepers with the most clean sheets. As such, it seems very fitting that he is second on our list of Chelsea’s best-ever goalkeepers too. He played just seven times for England, but unfortunately for him his career overlapped with greats including Gordon Banks, Ray Clemence and Peter Shilton – tough competition! That said, he was in the squad for the World Cup win in 1966, so at least his short England career was a glorious one!
He won the FA Youth Cup with the club in 1959/60 and made his first-team debut in March 1960 when just 18 years old. He kept a clean sheet that day too in what was a sign of things to come. He didn’t play in anything like the quality of Chelsea teams that Čech did but even so, Bonetti helped the club win the League Cup, FA Cup and European Cup Winners’ Cup during his time. He was also between the sticks for two promotions from the second tier to the first.
Bonetti, as his nickname implies, was fast, with quick reflexes and a graceful, agile style of goalkeeping. He was safe, very reliable and although short at 5ft 10in, was capable of handling high balls too. We will never know how many clean sheets he might have kept in the Chelsea team of the 21st century but he is undoubtedly a Blues icon.
3. Thibaut Courtois, 154 Appearances, 58 Clean Sheets
Based on the strength of their performances for the Blues there are other keepers who perhaps deserve inclusion on this list ahead of Belgian giant, Courtois. However, as well as achieving a shutout in almost 38% of his games and helping the Blues win two league titles and an FA Cup, Courtois has also achieved great things with Belgium and Real Madrid.
His time at Stamford Bridge was too short for him to merit legend status but in terms of his ability as a goalie, he has to be ranked higher than other contenders, such as Ed de Goey, Carlo Cudicini or, the goalkeeping star of the 1930s, Sam Millington. They have more Chelsea clean sheets than Courtois, but the Belgian – a sensational shot-stopper and commander of his box – was named the Best FIFA Goalkeeper in 2018 and won the Yashin Trophy in 2022. Chelsea fans lamented his move to Real Madrid in 2018 but the £35m the club got for him gave a huge profit on their €9m outlay.