Jose Mourinho will have a goalkeeper conundrum on his hands in the coming months. The solution shouldn't be selling Thibaut Courtois.
Since moving from Genk in 2011, the 21-year-old has spent the last three seasons on loan at Atletico Madrid. It would appear, though, that Chelsea will reach a crossroads this summer, where they'll have to decide whether to make Courtois the No. 1 goalkeeper or permanently move him on.
Diego Simeone told Spanish television channel Cuatro that paying €26 million for Courtois would be a nominal fee, and it's something that could be on the cards for Atletico, per ESPN.co.uk:
Definitely. For me, any price for Courtois would be cheap. He is a young guy who has a huge future ahead of him and is on course to be one of the best goalkeepers in the world.
To secure a goalkeeper of his quality would be a big coup. It will not be easy. It depends what Courtois wants. I always talk about football with the club, and the club know what we want, but it isn't up to us as he isn't our player.
Spanish football journalist Dermot Corrigan is also of the opinion that paying €26 million would be a bit of a steal:
Considering keeper Courtois is already [still just 21!] €26m indeed a snip I reckons. Still surprised Barca are [apparently] not interested— Dermot Corrigan (@dermotmcorrigan) January 22, 2014
Courtois revealed that his agent is talking to other clubs, in the event that he doesn't have a regular first-team role at Chelsea next season, per the London Evening Standard's Simon Johnson:
I know this, but it depends on Chelsea and what they ask. First, my agent is talking to Chelsea, to ask if I could talk to other clubs. Then we'll know a bit more. Atletico will wait for what Chelsea has to say.
First, we want to hear from Chelsea what they are going to do and then we'll see.
Simply put, there is almost no way Chelsea can sell Courtois this summer. Unless they're offered something ridiculous, like £50 million, the Blues should slot the promising Belgian keeper into the first team for the 2014/15 season.
The biggest obstacle at the moment is Petr Cech. At 31 years old, he's not yet hit the point where he could simply be phased out of the first team. Cech remains a quality goalkeeper, and he'd likely want regular first-team football as well.
Should it come to this, Chelsea would be much smarter selling off Cech or loaning him out, as Liverpool have done with Pepe Reina to make way for Simon Mignolet.
Whom should be the Chelsea No. 1 next season?
It's true that Courtois would have a transitional period as he acquaints himself with the Premier League, and during that transitional period, he'll likely have a howler or two.
Some may try and make the parallel to David de Gea, who was Atletico's first-choice keeper before Courtois came long. De Gea moved to Manchester United and had a series of high-profile howlers shortly after his arrival.
However, a comparison between the two isn't exactly apt.
De Gea had two years of first-team goalkeeping under his belt before he was sold to United. He had appeared in 57 La Liga matches, 13 Europa League matches and one in the Champions League.
Courtois, on the other hand, has one full season in Belgium and then three in Spain under his belt. So far, he's up to 135 appearances across La Liga and the Belgian Pro League. Then you have to consider his European experience. He helped Atletico win the Europa League in 2012 and has appeared in all but one of the club's six Champions League matches this year.
There's no threat that Courtois will be overwhelmed by the occasion in the event he takes the No. 1 shirt from Cech.
Courtois is the best young goalkeeper in the world, and he's still only 21 years old. Most goalkeepers don't even peak until their late 20s, so it's scary to think how much better this kid will get in a few years. It's only a matter of time before he's the best keeper in the world, period.
Talent like this doesn't grow on trees, so if Chelsea do sell him, the replacement will almost certainly be a downgrade. The Blues would be foolish to let him leave this summer.