With goalkeeper Victor Valdes almost certain to quit Barcelona by the end of the season, the champions of Spain have started lining up potential replacements, and Thibaut Courtois features high on their list.
Barca president Sandro Rosell has been busy casting admiring glances at Courtois, and in his latest interview on radio show El Larguero, he hinted that the Belgian was a transfer target for the Catalan giants, reports Dermot Corrigan of ESPN FC. As per Adrian Kajumba of the Daily Star, he is quoted as follows:
I want to try until the last moment for Valdes to stay at Barça but that is difficult. Also we are working for the substitute. Courtois? He is a big keeper, very good and personally I like him.
Courtois' immense success away from parent club Chelsea is well-documented. He’s been a mainstay in the Atletico Madrid line-up for a good two years now, and his third season on loan at the club has also started well. Having won each of their eight league games thus far, Los Colchoneros sit tied on points with Barcelona at the top of the Spanish Primera Liga.
It’s usually outfield players, especially strikers, who hog the limelight and dominate the headlines. In Atletico’s case, however, the young Belgian has hardly been overshadowed. He's been getting his fair share of credit for the club's recent achievements. Owing to his top-notch showings, he’s now regarded one of the continent's finest shot-stoppers.
Aside from winning plaudits from the media and helping his side to important silverware, he has also been garnering individual accolades. He bagged the Zamora Award for having conceded the fewest goals amongst La Liga keepers in 2012-13.
For those who haven't heard much of the 21-year-old, his obvious strengths are his reflexes and positioning. His massive frame (he's 6'6", for the record) can intimidate the best of strikers. Courtois has all the qualities necessary to be No. 1 keeper for a club of Chelsea's stature.
Had he chosen to stay on at Chelsea and meet the challenge head on, he might just have usurped Petr Cech from the starting line-up. Then again, that's much easier said than done. Besides, the risk factor couldn't possibly have been overlooked.
2014 is a World Cup year, and Belgium look likely to qualify. If he'd been unable to snatch the starting spot in West London, compatriot Simon Mignolet would've certainly stolen a march on him.
The choice is made for now. But when the current season comes to an end, Chelsea and Jose Mourinho will have to take a firm stand on the subject. At 31, Cech continues to sustain a high level of performance. One suspects he’s got a solid two or three years of his best still to offer. Should the Blues pit him against the younger Courtois in a direct battle for the starting spot, though, things could turn ugly.
At least that's what happened the last time Mourinho found himself in such a situation. While at Real Madrid, he had a choice between former Villareal custodian Diego Lopez and fan favorite Iker Casillas. His decision to go with the former over the latter didn't go down well with the supporters, or for that matter, even the players. We all know how that ended.
The immediate concern, though, would be Barca's interest.
Going by past evidence, it's never a good sign when those at the pinnacle of the Barcelona hierarchy start going public with their views on the players that don't belong to them. They usually secure the signature of the player in question.
Moreover, this particular story by Metro indicates that Courtois might actually have his heart set on a move to Catalonia. Chelsea have reason to be worried, as the Blues cannot afford to lose him. If the player does in fact want out, they've got a problem. They must think long and hard, so as to chalk out a strategy that is favorable for both the youngster and a club legend in Cech.
At Real Madrid, Carlo Ancelotti appears to have found the optimal solution to the Lopez-Casillas selection conundrum. He has worked out a plan to keep both keepers happy. Gerard Brand of the Daily Mail reported last month that Carletto had decided to field Lopez for league games and start Casillas on European nights.
Will Chelsea be able to keep Courtois from Barcelona's clutches?
Mourinho could opt for a similar resolution in the short run; that is, until the Belgian is deemed ready to supersede the Czech international for good. It is important that the manager stays in regular contact with him while the lad is away and reassures him of his role for the future.
Chelsea are not a selling club, and I do expect them to hold onto their man, but careful management in this dicey situation is imperative.
While he has improved leaps and bounds since the time he signed for Chelsea in 2011, Courtois will also be a whole lot more experienced when he makes the anticipated return to West London. He's already representing a top Spanish outfit, has had a taste of UEFA Champions League action and will likely have played for his country at a World Cup by then.
Is Courtois the heir apparent to Big Pete? He comes across as an intrepid character, much like Cech in his prime, and one would expect him to seize the chance when it does fall his way.