Chelsea’s 2-0 victory against Paris Saint-Germain on Tuesday sent them through to the Champions League semifinals in the same manner in which they have so often been eliminated; on a technicality. If Friday’s draw pairs the Blues with Atletico Madrid, another technicality could make the 2012 winners favourites to reach the final.
Thibaut Courtois has been a revelation during his loan spell at Atletico. He has kept four clean sheets in nine Champions League appearances, and makes an average of 4.5 saves per goal conceded. This remarkable record has been key to Atletico’s progress in the competition, but it could all come undone if they are drawn against Chelsea.
Unlike the Premier League, UEFA have no regulations to stop on-loan players from lining up against their parent club. However, Chelsea have been in the loan business for a long time, and the foresight they had to insert a fee-paying clause into the deal could pay dividends.
The size of the fee has not been released, but reports have it ranging from £2.5 million (Reuteurs) to £4 million (The Independent) per appearance. That would see Ateltico fork out between £5 million and £8 million for the two-legged tie.
Whatever the figure turns out to be, according to the Daily Mail, it is one that Atletico cannot afford to pay. The club have been in financial difficulties for some time, and the money spent on playing Courtois could prove crucial when the summer transfer window opens.
However, the old adage of “speculate to accumulate” could ring true.
The Champions League is worth approximately £1.1 billion to UEFA. As Financial Fair Play has kicked in, Europe’s governing body are finding ways to redistribute more of that money to the clubs in the competition and plan to continue increasing the prize money until 2018.
With Chelsea’s 2012 victory netting them £47.3 million in prize money alone, the more pertinent question for Atletico should be whether they can afford not to play Courtois.
Their backup keeper has started one solitary game this season, a 2-0 loss to Almeria, in which he committed a howler for the opening goal before being sent off after conceding an 86th-minute penalty.
Not exactly who you want between the sticks for a Champions League semifinal. Getting past Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea with Courtois will be difficult enough, but without him, it would seem an impossible task.
An appearance in the final could possibly prevent a complete fire sale of their prized players in the summer. Weighing up this reward with the risk of losing up to £8 million is an unenviable task, but it’s a gamble Atletico will have to take if they are serious about the Champions League.
Statistics from Squawka unless otherwise noted.