By Martyn Herman
Jan 11 (Reuters) - Apart from 2006 when he suffered a serious head injury, Petr Cech has rarely made the headlines in 10 years at Chelsea but his safe hands have underpinned a decade's worth of silverware.
Of all the hundreds of millions of pounds pumped into the club by Russian owner Roman Abramovich, the seven million paid to French club Stade Rennes for Cech have arguably offered the greatest return.
When the lanky goalkeeper kept a clean sheet on his debut in 2004 - a 1-0 win over Manchester United - it was a portent of things to come.
Later that campaign, as Chelsea marched to their first top-flight English title for 50 years, the Czech Republic international set a then Premier League record of 1,025 minutes without conceding a goal.
He kept 21 clean sheets in all that season and 100 in the league in his first 180 games.
On Saturday, when Chelsea eased past Hull City 2-0 to go top of the league, he was at it again, taking his tally of shutouts to a club record 209, edging past Stamford Bridge great Peter Bonetti.
It was also his 150th clean sheet in the league and, at the relatively young age for a keeper of 31, Cech is heading towards the top-flight record of 170 held by David James.
"It is a great personal achievement, a great milestone, but I believe this number can grow and hopefully it will help us win another trophy," said Cech who has three Premier Leagues and one Champions League among his title collection.
"The most important thing today was to get the three points but I was thinking in the second half I still have the clean sheet and in the end we had both the points and the clean sheet," he told the club website (www.chelseafc.com).
"I am still young ... and I hope I can add some more clean sheets and we will see where the final number will stop."
Cech's calm authority often goes unnoticed but manager Jose Mourinho, looking to mark his return to the club with another league title after winning it in 2005 and 2006, knows the importance of the Czech stopper.
"Petr is almost 10 years playing at the top and there has been clean sheet after clean sheet,' Mourinho said.
"At this moment he beats the record of Mr Bonetti but I think probably next year he will beat the record of the Premier League. He becomes a historic figure in the Premier League because all his career has been here since 2004.
"Also playing with Chelsea he has a lot of appearances and the best stage for a goalkeeper I think is between 30 and 35," said Mourinho.
Cech has broken the Chelsea record in 459 appearances for the club whereas Bonetti, nicknamed 'The Cat', played 729 matches between 1959-79.
"Petr Cech has been brilliant to do what he's done, he's one of the best goalkeepers I've seen. His record speaks for itself," Bonetti said.
"I admire him greatly, he's been incredible, and still has a long time to go. He is relatively young and could still go on to break more and more records."
Cech had one of his easier afternoons at Hull but there have been many times, according to midfielder Frank Lampard, when his interventions have been priceless.
"At Chelsea obviously people recognise him. One of the downsides of being as consistent as him is maybe people do get used to you being that good. We're very lucky to have him," Lampard said.
"He's been one of the best for many years."
Cech's form may also force the club to make a decision on Belgian 21-year-old Thibaut Courtois who has excelled during his loan spell at Atletico Madrid but has spoken of his desire to resolve his future at Chelsea.
The Czech keeper said his main focus was helping Chelsea land the league title again.
"We want to win the league if we can and hopefully clean sheets will help us achieve our targets," he said.
"Now we're top of the league for the first time in a long time and hopefully we can stay there."
James set his record during a career which included spells with Liverpool, West Ham United, Aston Villa, Manchester City and Portsmouth. (Editing by Clare Lovell and Josh Reich)