Why Thibaut Courtois Was La Liga Success Story of 2012

Rob TrainFeatured ColumnistDecember 29, 2012

BUCHAREST, ROMANIA - MAY 09:  Thibaut Courtois of Atletico Madrid and team mate Radamel Falcao (L) celebrate at the end of the UEFA Europa League Final between Atletico Madrid and Athletic Bilbao at the National Arena on May 9, 2012 in Bucharest, Romania.  (Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)
Michael Regan/Getty Images

Everybody knows that Chelsea want Radamel Falcao. Bad. It's also common knowledge that the Colombian goal machine intends to leave Atletico fans with broken hearts in the not-too-distant future.

Los Colchoneros are used to that. Iconic strikers always flee the Calderon at some point. Atletico are the third-most supported team in Spain but will never break the hegemony of the top two until they pay off their enormous tax bill.

Until then, they need to sell to stay afloat.

Fine. But rumors that Chelsea are willing to throw Fernando Torres into any deal for the most lethal striker in Europe are as wide of the mark of what most Atletico fans want as the erratic Chelsea forward's shooting.

What would really smooth the inevitable passage of the current Calderon hero would be Chelsea offering a pile of cash and goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois for the Colombia No. 9. 

Falcao seems set to stay for the rest of the season and should fire Atletico into a lucrative Champions League campaign. That will be enough of a parting gift for the Calderon hierarchy. But the young Belgium goalkeeper won't be relinquished so readily.

Chelsea are keen to take Courtois back to Stamford Bridge at the end of the season, and the usual suspects are lurking in the background.

It's hardly surprising. Courtois is already well on his way to becoming one of the best keepers in the world. His development is even more remarkable than that of his predecessor between the sticks, David de Gea.

Courtois is the undisputed no. 1 for his country, for starters. He made his debut just over a year ago, becoming the youngest keeper to represent his country. He also shut out France over those 90 minutes.

Since he joined Atletico on loan 18 months ago, he has kept a clean sheet in almost half of the games he has played. This season, he is worth less than a goal per match—16 in 17 in the league, with eight clean sheets. In four World Cup qualifiers for Belgium this season, he has conceded just once.

He won the Europa League in his first season in Madrid and added the European Supercup at the expense of his parent club.

Courtois is currently valued at about 15 million euros, so anybody that wants him won't have to break the bank, Gianluigi Buffon style. And, with Courtois at 20, potential suitors are getting some serious value for money in a position in which costly mistakes are often made as much by buyers as the players themselves. 

Rumors that Petr Cech may be about to hang his gloves up in semi-retirement are likely to be untrue. The Chelsea keeper is still only 30, and Courtois recognizes that he will have to wait for his chance at Stamford Bridge.

In the meantime, he is a starting goalkeeper for club and country, second in La Liga, a Europa League winner, was nominated for the European young player of the year award and is on course to play in the 2014 World Cup, with Belgium sitting top of European qualifying Group A. 

Atletico are going to face a barrage of offers for Falcao in January and again in the summer if the Colombian sees the season out.

Chelsea already hold the trump card for his signature. Atletico would do well to exploit it.