Thibaut Courtois: Chelsea Are Insane If They Let Barcelona Make Him Number One...
Life was good at the Vicente Calderon as the season came to an end. Kun Agüero and Diego Forlán were banging in goals and a young shot stopper called David De Gea was starting to look the business. The club had just won its first trophy in 14 years and things were looking very positive for a change. Living in Real Madrid’s shadow was hard to take and finally Atlético de Madrid were starting to make headlines for all the right reasons. Fast-forward 12 months to the summer of 2011. Agüero announced on his website that he wanted out, Forlán too was looking for an exit and David De Gea was sitting in the Atlético VIP room explaining his reasons for leaving. But cometh the hour, cometh the man. Well in this case, Cometh the boy, a young Belgian boy from Flanders to be exact and Atlético, after many false dawns, are finally on the right path. One of the key reasons for that is Thibaut Courtois.
Given his debut at just 16 at Racing Genk, Courtois won his first League medal a year later. Romelu Lukaku was grabbing all the headlines in Belgium, but the 'keeper was making some waves too and with 14 clean sheets to his name he was named Goalkeeper of the year and also his club’s player of the year. Atlético had a huge whole to fill after De Gea’s departure and most expected that Joel Robles would get the nod. Suddenly stories in the Spanish press surfaced that Atleti were keeping tabs on a young boy who had just turned 18. While De Gea and Wojciech Szczesny were been talked about as the future of goalkeeping, it seemed that Courtois has gone under the radar, but how times have changed with the youngster not only considered the best young keeper out there but with some claiming he could be already considered a top keeper.
When Chelsea pipped the Madrid club to the signing of Courtois, it looked like that was the end of Atlético’s interest but with Petr Cech still a solid keeper, Chelsea opted to loan him out. He came to the Vicente Calderon and made history. Recently he broke the clubs record of minutes without conceding a goal at home. Add in his other records, including his clean sheets record and you can see why fans are so keen for him to stay another year. For as good as De Gea was, he still made the odd mistake. Courtois doesn’t make mistakes. For years Atlético had had problems at the back. Poor defending and silly goalkeeping mistakes cost them time and time again. De Gea changed that but after just two seasons he was gone. Suddenly an 18 year old was been thrust in very dangerous situation. How would he handle the situation, would he be intimidated? Over time he showed that very few things faze him and when fans got to know him, everyone saw a maturity way beyond his years.
On the pitch he is solid. His timing is impeccable. He knows when to come out and when to stay on his line. He uses all his body and he is great passer of the ball. In a country where goalkeepers are expected to be able to pass and control the ball with their feet too, journalists and fans were very surprised at the ease Courtois had when distributing the ball. He was a natural and after his debut for the club he explained to journalists that he had originally been a midfielder before converting and that at Racing Genk he had been drilled time and time again in exercises using his feet. The result has been a success for Atlético as very few of his passes or kick outs reach an opposing player. In the system that Diego Simeone has set up at the club, this has proved invaluable.
His displays on the pitch have won fans over and even started a new craze at the beginning of this year. Martin Rosenow, an Atlético fan and Journalist living in Miami, starting a new trend called ‘Thibauting’. What started as a joke in his office suddenly became worldwide phenomena. Rosenow posted a picture of himself on his table, arms and legs stretched, copying Courtois’ gestures. Fans from all over the world sent photos off themselves, acting out the keepers famous saves. Spanish media wrote stories about it and pretty soon the rest of the world followed with British, American and many other countries all reporting about it. On Match days, every Courtois save sees the ‘Thibauting’ hashtag on Twitter resurface and it shows no signs of disappearing soon.
Off the pitch he is an intelligent, multi lingual a very bright young man. After a few months he was giving interviews in Spanish. He is confident but not arrogant. Journalists like him for his honesty and directness. On Twitter thousands follow him and his name is chanted at every home and away game. In a short time he has become a legend in the club’s history books and also in the stand. Yet when it comes to Courtois right now, everyone wants an answer: where is he going next year?
“There still isn’t news. I continue to say what I have been saying over the past weeks. I had hoped to learn something this week but they have asked for more time. Maybe it is because they will sign a new Coach. I don’t know but we will have to wait a little longer,” was the response from the shot stopper last week in Atlético’s mixed zone after a tough tie against Valencia. Representatives of Atlético have travelled to London to try and extend the loan deal for another year. The player has said he wouldn’t mind staying in Madrid but that it for Chelsea and Atlético to sort out. Chelsea are in two minds. They know that Atleti have a chance to play Champions League football next year, something that would give Courtois more experience but they also know that the Premier League is more physical that La Liga and that maybe sending him out to the likes of Fulham or Wigan would toughen him up. When he originally signed for Atlético, Fulham’s name was constantly floated as a Premier League destination as it was very close for Chelsea to keep an eye on him. If that is still on the cards is anyone’s guess.
Those that have watched the young Belgian in action week in and week out believe that he is more than ready, not to join Fulham or another side, but to step into Cech’s shoes at Chelsea, but with the Czech still producing some solid and brilliant displays it could be a risk dropping him. The problem Chelsea have is that neither keeper wants to sit on the bench and while they may sort out his short term future, next year an important decision will need to be made. Courtois signed a five-year deal at Chelsea; two of those years have gone. Yet, should Chelsea not consider him ready, there are others who are interested in signing the keeper and making him their long term No. 1, most notably Barcelona.
He is a man in demand but a man who has his feet firmly on the ground. Right now his objectives are clear: seal Champions League football and win the Copa Del Rey. A few years ago they predicted he would be great and they were right but most believe that we are only starting to see his brilliance and that there is much more to come. On his displays so far it would be very hard to argue against that.