Thibaut Courtois 21 Goalkeeper Atlético Madrid (on loan from Chelsea) Belgium
2013 has been…
Sensational. In his review last year (we gave him a B) during the conclusion we stated that ‘right now there are few, if any, goalkeepers playing as well as the Bree born youngster’. At that point he seemed to be the form goalkeeper playing in world football. Due to his tender years there was a feeling the bump in the road was coming, the spell that proves he’s mortal, but twelve months down the line and a full four years of unbelievable consistency into his career, he’s starting to look otherworldly.
While he remains Chelsea’s property he made it clear he wants to play first team football and openly lobbied to remain at Atlético in the summer. There should be no surprise in the reluctance to leave as the 2012/13 season ended with a very happy Courtois having positioned himself as statistically the best goalkeeper in La Liga, and therefore the first player to take the Ricardo Zamora trophy from Victor Valdés since 2009. His contribution to Atlético’s campaign was massive, only perhaps surpassed by Radamel Falcao’s incredible work at the head of El Atleti’s attack. To add to the Europa League and UEFA Super Cup winner’s medals earned in 2012 he now has a 2013 Copa del Rey winner’s medal, a game notable for not only being the moment ‘that’ run ended against Real, but also for his own Man-of-the-Match performance and award. On top of that was Champions League qualification with a well-deserved third-place finish and all in, there was simply no desire to sit on a bench in West London watching Petr Cech play.
This season has started in the same way, Atlético superb and their goalkeeper in imperious form in La Liga and European competition. There are some stunning moments on YouTube and we assure you this is no one-trick-show-reel-pony, but we urge you to check out a save against Real Sociedad in September that tells you nearly everything you need to know about Courtois. As the ball comes across from the left it’s hit crisply on the volley from just beyond the penalty spot by Esteban Granero. Courtois, all six feet and six inches of him lest we forget the frame that makes him so imposing in one-on-one situations, dives instinctively to his right and pushes the ball over the bar when those around him are shouting “goal!” A wonderful save in it’s own right, it also proves what makes Courtois so special as to put it simply, well over ninety-percent of goalkeepers playing the game professionally across the world would have got nowhere near it.
Back at Stamford Bridge Petr Cech still holds the number one shirt and is certainly one of the top ten ‘keepers in world football. The problem is Courtois, for IBWM’s money anyway, has now surpassed his long-distance teammate and a decision is imminent. Chelsea can replace one of the best goalkeepers in the world with another one of the best goalkeepers in the world - not a bad position to be in but one that comes at a price. Cech is far too good to play second fiddle, as is Courtois, so you have to feel it comes down to how long Chelsea feel they want to give an aging Cech in the number one shirt, as opposed to how long they think they can realistically expect Courtois to exist in footballing limbo.
He is already one of the most coveted ‘keepers in world football and the slightest hint of a permanent move will see a traditional transfer ‘scramble’ (cc @FootballCliches). At the head of that bun-fight are Barcelona who are long-term admirers but they would face huge competition to secure him if available. Chelsea should move heaven and earth to keep him on the books and to keep him happy; this is a player who is already one of the best in the world in his position and must be treasured accordingly.
For the minute he remains happy at Atlético, the club he has described as the ‘most important’ of his career, and Chelsea are in constant contact and reportedly sending their own goalkeeping staff across to every home game to touch base and show how much they care. As Belgium’s number one he has a World Cup summer to look forward to and by the tournament’s end, he may just have forced Jose Mourinho to have a very awkward conversation with an old favourite…
“Cemented his place as Europe's best young goalkeeper (in my opinion) with another tremendous year on loan at Atletico Madrid, including being named Man of the Match in the Copa Del Rey final as his heroics led them to victory over rivals Real. When he returns to Chelsea at the end of the season, Jose Mourinho has an incredibly difficult decision to make.” – Chris Mayer, The Belgian Waffle
“I keep being told this guy is 21-years-old, and I keep telling them I need to see a birth certificate. Composed and colossal, Courtois has the demeanor of Edwin Van Der Sar in his later years with Manchester United. Big hands, big saves and an even bigger future.” – David Cartlidge, Spanish football writer
"Of the goalkeepers to play 10+ games in the 2012/13 La Liga, Thibaut Courtois (74.78%) had the best save percentage." - Opta
A The question is not whether he’ll go on to become one of the top five goalkeepers in world football, it’s whether he’s in the top three already