The most memorable save of Thibaut Courtois’ career came last season in the Copa del Rey final against Real Madrid. It was the most memorable and arguably the most important.
Sprawling across his six-yard box, Courtois rushed to meet Mesut Ozil, the German waiting on the end of Angel Di Maria’s cross. Had it gone in, the tie would have gone to penalties. Instead, the giant Belgian ‘keeper deflected it up and over.
It was a phenomenal piece of goalkeeping, something Courtois would go on to do on a number of occasions this season. Lesser league games, yes. There were high-profile matches too. Shutting out Barcelona comes to mind. But what a stage it was for the Belgian international to deny his parent club in the Champions League semi-finals, saving from John Terry and Eden Hazard, among others.
There can be no doubts about this goalkeeper’s quality and where he’s going in his career. Petr Cech may be considered the best goalkeeper in England, but Courtois, in what should be a decent fight against Manuel Neuer, would emerge as the best in Europe. A remarkable standing when reminded he’s only 21-years-old.
Chelsea may struggle to break away from Cech in the near future, such has been the Czech International’s importance to the club’s success over the past decade. But Chelsea would equally struggle to find a better replacement, a replacement who would offer a sizeable improvement on an already fantastic goalkeeper.
The club should take into account more than just Courtois’ ability. When he arrived in Madrid to replace David De Gea at the Vicente Calderon, there were tears. This was a teenager who had been taken away from his home and was left to adjust to life in unfamiliar surroundings.
His mentality is equally as remarkable as his abilities as a goalkeeper. Courtois featured in a Europa League final at 19, won the Copa del Rey against Real Madrid in the Bernabeu a year-and-a-week later at 21, and has now aided in his team’s journey to the Champions League final, where he’ll be 22 come May 24th. If all goes right for him and Atletico over the next two league games, he’ll be a champion of Spain. Throw in all the clichés you want, this is a big-game player.
We can dissect and discredit the loan system, but that’s for another day. Chelsea have seen a footballer on their books flourish into one of the world’s best – now is the time to reap those rewards.
Where in the past it was thought that Jose Mourinho would send Courtois out on loan to another Premier League club in order for him to adjust to life in England – a proposition that came up in previous summers – that line of thinking now seems ludicrous. That decision was naturally dictated by the player’s age. There’s no time for that sort of thing if he’s a 28-year-old with 10 years of top flight action under his belt. But he’s too good for that. He’s too good not to be playing among the elite in Europe and he’s too good for Chelsea to keep this transition on hold.
Petr Cech may have another five years minimum left him in, but again that shouldn’t matter. Chelsea have a fantastic opportunity to set themselves up for the next 10 years. They only need to look to Manchester United and Arsenal to see the difficulties in replacing a world-class individual between the posts.
The west London club should also be fearful that another year on loan for Courtois could further distance him from his parent club. Other than what’s on the books, he has no emotional attachment to Chelsea. He’s already been linked with both Barcelona and Real Madrid, and he if can’t stay at Atletico – which surely he’d be happy to do – then why not move to one of the other two teams contesting for this season’s La Liga title?
The point is, Chelsea need to establish that bond. They need to let Courtois know what they plan to do and take action as soon as possible. Cech has been a great servant for the club, but there’s nothing in the rules that states they must extract every last drop from their current goalkeeper.
Worryingly, if you’re in the Chelsea camp and in support of Courtois, the club recently made a sizeable profit through the sale of two players who they didn’t want. Romelu Lukaku is set to add to that list of Juan Mata and Kevin De Bruyne, and the possibility is there that the club opt to hold fire on making the switch and instead cash in on Europe’s star goalkeeper. It would be a disaster now, but it would only be felt later on, when the club are eventually forced to find a replacement.