Feature Photo: Phil Cole/Getty Images
Carlo Cudicini lasted 22 years as a professional footballer, with 13 of those years being spent in England making him one of the Premier League’s longest-serving Italian players.
The son of former Milan goalkeeper Fabio Cudicini and best known for being Chelsea’s no. 2 keeper for an eternity, Cudicini began life with his father’s club. Before making his first-team debut in 1992, Cudicini was an ever-present member of the Italian U18 side – he made 20 appearances for the young Azzurri squad before he was handed his Milan debut.
A promising young player, but in four seasons Cudicini wouldn’t feature in Serie A for Milan. He made just two first-team appearances and spent much of his time out on-loan, but landed himself a permanent move to the Tuscany-based club, Prato, in 1995. A decent season with Prato saw him land a move to Lazio in 1996, but unfortunately for him, his long and hellish battle with injuries was about to begin.
He only made one senior appearance for Lazio in the 1996-97 season, in a game where a suffered a serious knee injury but stoically remained on the pitch as his coach had no more changes available. After one season with Lazio he was sold to Castel di Sangro. Now playing between the second and third tiers of Italian football, Cudicini would endure three strenuous years at the club, making just 14 appearances as injuries continued to get the better of him.
Cudicini arrived at Castel di Sangro in 1997 and by this time, the early hype around him had worn off. He was no longer an active member of any Italian national side, but he got an unexpected move to Chelsea in 1999, initially as a loan deal. Gianluca Vialli was the Chelsea coach at the time, and he was allegedly recommended Cudicini by Lazio goalkeeper Luca Marchegiani.
Soon after arriving on-loan, Cudicini signed for Chelsea for a fee of £300,000. His role was largely expected to be a back-up one, but nobody could have foreseen just how integral and impressive he would become in such a short space of time. In Italy, there was an overriding sense that Cudicini was a really talented player with a potentially bright future, but his luck with injuries would forever hold him back.
After three appearances in his first full season at Chelsea, Cudicini became more involved in his second – the 2001-02 season. He began to share the no. 1 spot with Ed de Goey and, later on that season, Mark Bosnich. But Cudicini’s performances put him way above the rest in the pecking order, and he was so good for Chelsea that fans named him their Player of the Year for that season.
After years spent in and out of first-teams, on and off the physio’s table, Cudicini was starting to prevail and he went one step further in the 2002-03 season – he was voted ITV’s Premiership Goalkeeper of the Season after another sterling season in goal for Chelsea, once again prevailing as the club’s no. 1, and developing a reputation for being hard to beat from 12-yards.
Injury would blight much of Cudicini’s 2003-04 season before Jose Mourinho’s appointment in 2004 and the beginning of a new era. A new goalkeeper, Petr Cech, joined Chelsea and would go on to become one of the Premier League’s greatest ever goalies. From the off, Cech was Chelsea’s first-choice man between the sticks. He proved an instant-hit with the fans and when Chelsea won the Premier League that year, Cudicini would miss out on a medal having not played enough games throughout the season.
In Mourinho’s first three season stint at Chelsea, Cudicini played just 29 times in the Premier League. He was a regular feature in cup competitions but far too good to be wasted on the Chelsea bench, and half-way through the 2008-09 season he joined London rivals Tottenham Hotspur.
His last season-and-a-half at Stamford Bridge was spent under Avram Grant and the story was largely the same as before. He’d made 216 appearances for the club and kept 101 clean sheets upon leaving, but his latter years at the club handed him an unwanted reputation of being a “back-up” player, and that story stayed true at Tottenham.
Cudicini made his debut a day after signing for the club, but as soon as first-choice keeper Heurelho Gomes was back, Cudicini was dropped. The following three seasons were pretty quiet for the Italian – he made just 37 appearances across all competitions for Spurs, with 19 of those coming in the Premier League. His departure was becoming more and more imminent with Spur’s signing of veteran stopper Brad Friedel in 2011, and then by current-club captain Hugo Lloris in 2012.
His exit from White Hart Lane was confirmed in December 2012, when he sealed an unexpected move to Los Angeles Galaxy. Now well into his 30s, but seemingly still hungry after years of misuse at Chelsea and Spurs, Cudicini would play a regular role for Galaxy over the next two seasons. Injury would continue to beset Cudicini though. He would celebrate his 40th birthday at Galaxy but was eventually released, and hung up his boots soon after.
This is a Premier League name that has been woefully forgotten. Cudicini was one of the best keepers in England during his prime Chelsea years. He had the robustness, agility, and everything in-between to make him into a fine Premier League player. But for all his talent, it seems he was always with the wrong club, at the wrong time. He was never going to compete against the likes of Cech, and perhaps he could’ve spent some years as the no. 1 goalkeeper at another club?
The sad reality of it is that we’ll never know. Now occupying a technical role at Chelsea, his service to the club has only become more reputable as he’s continued to work with the Blues in his post-playing career. Most defying of all though is that Cudicini was never capped by Italy. A keeper as good as he was, but again his timing was all wrong – he was just one of many fine Italian keepers of his generation, led by the likes of Gigi Buffon and Francesco Toldo.
We have fine memories of Cudicini, but there should be many more.
Click below to read more stories of Italian players who tried their hand at the Premier League:
Gianfranco Zola’s Inspiring Love Affair with Chelsea
Roberto Di Matteo’s Managerial Greatness
Benito Carbone’s British Tribulations
The Turbulent Times of Paolo Di Canio
Alberto Aquilani’s Missed Chance at Liverpool
Everton Full-Back Alessandro Pistone and His Injury Hell
The Hard-Hitting Times of Gianluca Festa at Middlesbrough
Attilio Lombardo’s Short Stint at Crystal Palace