Like fellow Blues veterans John Terry, Frank Lampard and Ashley Cole, 31-year-old Czech legend Cech will likely move on or retire in the next couple of years—and when he does, the 21-year-old Belgian Courtois should be capable of taking his place.
At a sturdy 6’6” and 194 pounds (91 kg.), Courtois is physically built almost identically to Cech (6’5”, 87 kg.) and his 86 saves and just 30 goals conceded in 37 La Liga games for temporary side Atletico Madrid last season is impressive even when compared to Cech’s 122 saves and 36 goals conceded in 36 Premier League starts.
Courtois, who now has 98 appearances for Los Rojiblancos, is consistent, durable and helped Atletico earn a lucrative spot in the UEFA Champions League with a third-place finish in La Liga (23-7-8, 76 points) behind perennial European powerhouses Barcelona (100) and Real Madrid (85).
Those Spanish giants will now be feared even more with the acquisition of two of the summer’s top signings in Neymar (Barcelona) and Isco (Real Madrid)—players so good they only need one name.
Maybe heading to England would have been safer than going out on another one-year loan to Los Rojiblancos, who won the Europa League in his first season at Estadio Vicente Calderon then won the UEFA Super Cup and Spanish Cup last season, and risking his reputation. But the extended stay will do him good.
Courtois was the winner of the Ricardo Zamora Trophy, given to the goalkeeper with the lowest goals-conceded-per-game ratio in La Liga—a league known for featuring lots of goals. The young Belgian also set new team records for consecutive minutes without allowing a goal, both home and away.
The budding star arrived at Stamford Bridge in July 2011 from Racing Genk in the Belgian Pro League but because Cech remains one of the best goalkeepers in the sport—and proved it by leading Chelsea to the UEFA Champions League and Europa League in consecutive years in 2012 and '13—the Blues have wisely continued to keep Courtois out on loan.
Besides making a name for himself with Atletico, Courtois has also turned heads as the starting goalkeeper for the upstart Belgian national team—a nation to watch in next year’s World Cup in Brazil—earning nine caps and becoming the team’s youngest starter in the high-profile position.
Courtois will fit in perfectly at Stamford Bridge alongside his Belgium teammates Eden Hazard, Kevin De Bruyne and Romelu Lukaku. The latter duo have also spent time out on loan and will be given a chance to strut their stuff at Chelsea this season by returning boss Jose Mourinho.
Facing players like Messi, Ronaldo, Neymar, Isco, Xavi and Andres Iniesta will serve as far better preparation to replace Cech in the rugged Premier League than playing in age-group football or the reserves.
Chelsea is lucky to have a guy like Courtois and smart enough not to have included him in any potential transfer deals—just like De Bruyne—over the last two seasons.
It’s hard enough to find a goalkeeper like Cech, Manuel Neuer, Iker Casillas, Artur Moraes, Gianluigi Buffon or Salvatore Sirigu, but once you have, it’s crucial to do everything right to keep him in the fold.
The Blues have managed that and now need to figure out how and when to do the right thing in terms of Cech’s eventual departure—as he certainly deserves the respect afforded to other aging Blues legends.
As we may well see happen with Didier Drogba, employing Cech as a player/coach/super-sub could be the route Chelsea elects to take.
Whatever happens, expect Courtois to become No. 1 in the next two years then establish himself as a stalwart of a West London team thick with young talent like Juan Mata, Hazard, Cesar Azpilicueta, David Luiz, De Bruyne, Marco van Ginkel, Andre Schurrle, Oscar and Lukaku.
And with the brilliant Mourinho as father figure to all these youngsters, it seems a good time to be a Chelsea fan.
But for now, two big questions remain: how much quality football does Cech still have left in him and when will the Blues hand Courtois his chance to start?
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