Chelsea’s search for a new striker following failed attempts at prising Wayne Rooney from Manchester United has taken them to Atletico Madrid, where Diego Costa’s form has seen him establish equal footing with Europe’s most prolific marksmen.
Atletico are in a position where they’ll need to sell, and with the Spanish international likely to fetch a higher fee than any other player in Diego Simeone’s squad, it makes sense to sell if it amounts to retaining the core of the team.
But does it make sense for Chelsea? Atletico won’t waver on Costa’s current release clause, said to be £32 million. They need to sell, but they’ll be determined to extract as much as they can from a player who could very well spark a bidding war among Europe’s elite.
Atletico are further strengthened by their current hold of Thibaut Courtois, who is in his third year on loan at the La Liga club from Chelsea. Any deal involving Costa making the switch to Stamford Bridge will have to include the Belgian goalkeeper staying one at the Vicente Calderon, otherwise it’s a lose-lose situation for the Madrid club.
Courtois is currently the best young goalkeeper in the world. He’s helped form the backbone of three trophies won at Atletico under Simeone, and will without question develop into game’s leading shot-stopper. At 21, he could be a starter for any club in the world.
That’s what Chelsea would be giving up if they pursued Costa. The striker has had an outstanding season, where he may yet add another trophy to his collection. But there are others out there of equal ability and availability. It’s far, far more difficult to find a goalkeeper of Courtois’ stature and quality in the game.
But taking the Belgian back to Stamford Bridge and halting his development by leaving him on the bench as understudy to Petr Cech is counterproductive. Not only will his performances suffer when he does receive match time, his value will also decrease if Chelsea find themselves in a position of needing to move him on.
Petr Cech is still too good to be shown the door at Stamford Bridge, adding the experience of having won numerous titles at Chelsea and aiding in the passing of responsibility to the younger players. Mourinho is not in need of bringing in another goalkeeper at this time, but he must nevertheless find a resolution to the problem of having two No.1 calibre goalkeepers on the books.
For Chelsea, it shouldn’t be an option of losing Courtois for Costa, or any player for that matter. The young Belgian will become a better goalkeeper than Cech and could theoretically play for the club for the next 15 years. It’s the kind of stability any manager would cherish in that area of the pitch.
In the meantime, Atletico would further strengthen their case as a player in Spain and Europe if they were to secure the permanent signing of Courtois. The club have had to deal with the loss of world-class forwards in the past and each time they’ve emerged, arguably, in a better position. There should be few doubts about their capability to replace Costa. They will have a problem in replacing Courtois if it comes to that, despite having signed Roberto, a good keeper in his own right, last summer.
What this amounts to, if the swap takes place, is a considerable loss for Chelsea in the long term and a fantastic gain for Atletico. There are cases when exceptional talents become available or are already on the books of a club that should be signed or retained no matter the immediate need for them. Courtois is that exceptional talent that simply can’t be discarded.
Chelsea should seek to loan him again, either to Atletico once more or another club befitting his ability as a player, and then start the transition of moving on Cech. Losing Courtois permanently for Costa would be a colossal mistake on Chelsea’s part.