Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho has warned that goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois will not stay at Atletico Madrid permanently and is likely to return to Stamford Bridge in the summer.
After spending three seasons on loan at the Spanish side, expectation had been growing that the Belgium international would leave Chelsea this summer.
ESPN reports that although Mourinho was unwilling to discuss Atletico forward Diego Costa at a recent media gathering, he did entertain the future of Courtois:
"Courtois is our player. Diego is not our player. So, again, I cannot speak about Diego Costa. About Courtois, I can. He's my player."
When specifically asked whether Courtois would stay permanently at Atletico, Mourinho said "no, no."
Courtois is one of the top young goalkeepers in the world. At 21 years old, he has a long career ahead of him at the top level.
He has already made over 100 senior appearances, many of them coming for an Atletico side who have consistently punched above their weight in La Liga.
During his time in the Spanish capital, he has won the Europa League, the Copa del Rey and the UEFA Super Cup. This season, Atletico are challenging Barcelona and Real Madrid for the Primera Division title.
He is also expected to travel to the 2014 World Cup with Belgium. As part of an exciting young side that includes Eden Hazard, Romelu Lukaku, Kevin Mirallas and Marouane Fellaini, he could enhance his reputation further.
Spanish football expert Dermot Corrigan believes Courtois could be worth as much as €26 million. He also believes that Barcelona could yet register an interest:
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
It would not be easy for Atletico to replace a player of his quality. With Chelsea reportedly targeting Diego Costa in a possible swap deal for Courtois—as reported by Charlie Skillen in the Daily Mail—it may be that Mourinho is laying down some ground rules in an attempt to take control of negotiations.
The Blues are in a strange situation. With Petr Cech in goal, they don't need Courtois. However, by outlining how important he is to Chelsea, Mourinho is showing Atletico they won't let the goalkeeper leave easily.