Jose Mourinho wouldn’t want to win it that way – the Champions League semi-final against Atletico Madrid or the competition altogether. As easy as it may be for some to brush it under the carpet if Thibaut Courtois is left out of the tie, in whichever way Chelsea capitalise on the advantage, it will be tainted. It will disgrace the competition this year if a competitor is able to exert whatever power or influence they have in order to win.
Uefa stepped in quickly before the semi-final draw took place; probably hoping quietly that the two clubs would be kept separate, but knowing full well that they’d have to tackle this situation sooner or later.
The governing body has dismissed the validity of a clause that says Courtois can’t play against his parent club in the competition – a clause that is common with clubs loaning their players out domestically. In fact, there is some contradiction as to whether the clause actually exists. Chelsea say it doesn’t, while Atletico say it does.
Like Uefa sooner or later having to act on this problem, the football world as a whole would have eventually been drawn on just how delicate and frankly ridiculous the loan system can be.
It’s ridiculous because not only does it protect clubs like Chelsea, who currently have 25 players out loan this season, by allowing them to have their name attached to a, for now, unlimited number of players without violating the squad quota of their domestic league, it gives them indirect influence – and in this case direct influence – on the outcome of a competition.
For instance, Courtois was good enough to shut out Barcelona in the second leg of the last round in the Champions League. He was good enough to eliminate the Catalans and AC Milan in the knockout phase, but is deemed too good for Chelsea to attempt to overcome him themselves. Not so subtle massaging of a topic to suit an agenda? Well it isn’t inaccurate. If it was, then why do clubs insert clauses that say players can’t play against their parent club? It completely distorts the entire season and gives one club an upper hand over others.
Domestically, Chelsea, the club, have two teams battling in their favour. They have their own, and they have Everton, a team fronted by a player who has been instrumental in their attempts to derail other title challengers. Of course, Everton are acting in their own interests to secure a top four place themselves, but once again, if Lukaku wasn’t so good, if he wasn’t such a threat, why not allow him to play against Chelsea during this season?
Uefa absolutely must ensure that whatever happens in the build up to the semi-final, Atletico aren’t bullied into thinking they can’t field Courtois. Atletico have an interest in taking the Belgian back on loan again next season – making it four years at the Calderon and not a single competitive game played for his parent club; another lunacy – and ‘upsetting’ Chelsea may work against them when it comes to negotiating the transfer during the summer.
It has to be asked how a competition such as the Champions League, at this stage no less, can have such an issue crop up. Atletico are good enough to win the competition, without doubt. They won’t be good enough if the invaluable Courtois is taken out of the lineup and Daniel Aranzubia is forced to step in. Uefa’s choice of words, “competition integrity,” is most appropriate.