It’s not very common that a loan player can be valued at £30million, especially a goalkeeper, but according to the tabloids, Chelsea find themselves in such an absurd situation.
Belgium No.1 Thiabaut Courtois has been a Blues player since 2011 when he signed from Genk for an undisclosed fee believed to be around £8million, but it’s in La Liga where the 21 year old has earned his reputation, and his subsequent £30million price-tag.
Farmed out to Atletico Madrid for the last three seasons in a row, including the current campaign, Courtois has emerged as one of the finest young goalkeeping talents Europe has to offer; recently heralded by Spanish super-journalist Guilleme Balague as the best No.1 in the world, the winner of last year’s Zamora Trophy in Spain – awarded every season in La Liga to the goalie with the lowest goals conceded coefficient – and now a prime transfer target for Barcelona.
Courtois’ sudden rise puts Chelsea in an incredibly awkward position. The 6 foot 6 keeper could one day establish himself as the world’s best, especially if Belgium’s golden generation begin to produce the goods at international tournaments, but game time at Stamford Bridge will always remain limited while Petr Cech is still around.
So what should the Blues do? Is selling to Barcelona for a whopping £30million the only viable option? Or should Chelsea hold onto a starlet almost guaranteed for greatness?
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Cech has slipped down in many-a-pundits’ estimations in recent years, with the younger and more flexible Joe Hart, David De Gea and Asmir Begovic receiving the vast majority of the Premier League‘s goalkeeping spotlight as the Chelsea man is accused of getting rusty in his old age. But the Czech international is still just 31, and still has a decades’ worth of action ahead of him, judging by the likes of Brad Friedel and Mark Schwarzer continuing their careers past the 40 year mark.
Although youth and flexibility served Cech well in his younger years, it was never an integral part of his game. The Blues keeper remains dominant in the air, possesses the most reliable and error-free pair of hands in the English top flight and is unrivaled in his ability to position himself perfectly at in almost every situation where his goal is threatened.
Despite the 31 year-old attracting unwarranted criticism, he’s, by my estimations at least, the most established and talented goalkeeper the Premier League has to offer, and thus, one of the leading No.1s in Europe. Mistakes come but once or twice per season from the 6 foot 5 man, and rather than declining, I’d suggest he’s a player almost certain to improve with age and add continue to add to his experience with every Chelsea appearance – not that there are many goalies in Europe or otherwise that can parallel Cech’s three league titles, four FA Cups, single Champions League title and single Europa League title.
Therefore, it’s understandable that Chelsea have decided to send their goalkeeping prodigy out on loan for the past three years rather than having him sitting on the bench and unable to usurp the established Petr Cech from the first team, with the vast majority of his competitive outings coming in the auxiliary tournaments. Courtois is better than that, as he’s proved during his prolonged stay in Madrid, and playing second fiddle at Stamford Bridge would have seriously stunted the Belgian’s development.
Now however, comes the rare conundrum of where the future between the Chelsea goalpost truly lies; one of the most established ‘keepers in the game today, or a young buck who at the age of 21 is already challenging Cech’s ability. The goalkeeping duo are too talented and too financially valuable to share the No.1 role at Stamford Bridge, and one’s inclusion on a regular basis will have to come at the expense of the other.
But do the Blues really have a choice to make? Courtois’ potential is unlimited, yet it will take usurping one of the most talented, reliable and established goalkeepers the Premier League has to offer to allow him a chance in West London. Even for a ‘keeper of Courtois’ abilities, it’s still a huge risk on Chelsea’s part, especially considering Cech won’t be willing to stick around on the Blues bench when he could be playing regular football at almost any other Champions League outfit.
And if the Zamora Trophy, and a record of 29 goals conceded in 37 league outings, isn’t enough to convince Jose Mourinho that it’s time to include the Belgian at the expense of his ten years senior counterpart, it’s hard to suggest what will. The Portuguese turned heads in 2004 when he established Cech as his first choice ‘keeper over the tried, tested and highly-regarded Carlo Cudicini, but the Italian had, at that point at least, never claimed league title or even made a senior appearance for the Italian national team.
Cech is a completely different standard of goalkeeper, with a record of 144 clean sheets in 295 Premier League outings, and it’s take a very brave man to cut his Chelsea tenure short whilse he’s still got up to a decade left of his career, and at least another five or six years playing at his very best.
At the same time, Courtois represents a player who the Blues acquired for just £8million, and without ever making a single competitive appearance for his parent club, could now be sold for in excess of £30million. Roman Abramovich isn’t in the business of making the West London outfit a club that sells to improve their bank account, but that’s a £22million profit in three years for a player that won’t even be missed in any form whatsoever at Stamford Bridge.
Of course, the concern is that Chelsea will be handing over possibly the best goalkeeper of a generation to one of their direct Champions League rivals. But from that perspective, it’s a lose-lose situation either way; either Coutois goes, or Cech goes – there’s no room for compromise.
And thus, it has to be Coutois that leaves, in my opinion at least. The Belgium international has no experience in England whatsoever at this point in his career, and axeing him for a £22million profit is a far safer solution than selling on Cech for the sake of marginal improvements between the Blues’ goal posts in the years to come.
Mourinho may hold a different opinion, considering he’s been privy to a close up view of the Belgian’s accomplishments in Spain over the last two years. But the goalkeeping conundrum will have to be solved sooner rather than later; both Courtois’ and Cech’s contracts expire in 2016, and next summer represents the best opportunity to sell before their values begin to depreciate.
If it’s decided the 21-year-old will have to be moved on however, Chelsea will hope there are less prominent suitors on the horizon than the mighty Barcelona.
Should Chelsea cash in on Courtois or bide their time?
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