The excitement and hype has never been fleeting. At 21-years-old, Thibaut Courtois has already formed the bedrock of an Atletico Madrid team that has won three trophies under Diego Simeone. The Belgian international has picked up from his predecessor in the Atletico goal, David de Gea, and continued to run with the aim of being the very best in Europe. For now, and based on his capture of the Zamora award last season, he is the standout goalkeeper in La Liga.
Courtois’ crowning moment in an Atletico shirt arguably came at the end of last season, building a barricade and stubbornly and heroically refusing Real Madrid an equaliser in the Copa Del Rey final. It was the kind of performance that you would occasionally see from an unknown or inexperienced goalkeeper making an unlikely appearance in a cup final. For Courtois, it was the exclamation mark on the claim that this is the premier young goalkeeper in Europe.
Even now, in his unlikely third season with Atleti – the Spanish club certainly won’t mind – Simeone’s side have gone through the first three games of the domestic campaign unbeaten, winning all three of their games – of which two were away to Sevilla and Real Sociedad – and only conceding two goals. Against Real Sociedad on the weekend, Courtois pulled off another miraculous save on 88 minutes to turn away an almost point blank shot from Esteban Granero. Not only does he have the reflexes and mentality to handle the big occasion, the giant Belgian is also now equipped with a level of experience that sees him perform to the max each week.
Chelsea are rightly set for a long day when they reach the point of deciding upon their undisputed No.1 between the posts. The transfer business of Atletico seems to indicate that the decision process will come sooner rather than later. The La Liga side have secured the signing of Roberto from Zaragoza and subsequently loaned him out to Olympiacos. The Spaniard could be set to take over from Courtois as early as next season, unless of course Atletico land the Belgian for a fourth season.
The problem for Chelsea could increase, however. Courtois is far too good to sit on the bench or even rotate, and it’s not just Atletico who see that. Real Madrid could step in at the end of the season if Iker Casillas departs, and let’s not forget that Barcelona will also be looking for a replacement for Victor Valdes next summer. Not only that, but Courtois’ unbelievable potential could see some of the wealthiest clubs around Europe step in. PSG, Monaco and even Manchester City could decide to upgrade – and Courtois would certainly be an upgrade.
Petr Cech, even at 31, still has almost a decade left in him at the highest level. There has been very little decline in the Czech international in recent seasons, and a demotion or even transfer could be viewed as unjust. But Chelsea could be toying with the idea of letting go of a player who is certain to surpass Cech later in his career. A period of adjustment to the Premier League may be desired from Chelsea, but as already suggested, Courtois has the mentality of a veteran keeper; it’s highly unlikely the Premier League will raise the same questions as it has done for de Gea. The other issue is that Courtois is too good for a mid-table side who aren’t competing in Europe or at least for a top four spot.
Regardless of what may be said about La Liga, anything but one of the best clubs in Europe would be a major step back for the Belgian. For now, he’s well on course to becoming the best goalkeeper in the world.
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