After three years away from a club on loan, most players might think that they are entirely unwanted by their parent club, but then Thibaut Courtois has ever exactly faced a normal set of circumstances.
The Belgian goalkeeper was signed by Chelsea from Genk in 2011, but before playing a single game, he was farmed out for a season to Atletico Madrid, who had just sold their first-choice stopper, David de Gea.
Despite being a talented young goalkeeper himself, Courtois faced competition for the goalkeeper spot at Chelsea from established first-choice Petr Cech, one of the best goalkeepers in the world and an immovable part of the team. It made sense in the interest of all parties for the new arrival to get game time elsewhere—but that has all changed now.
Growth and Success
Courtois impressed in his initial spell as Atletico's rebuilt side served notice of their intent to challenge, winning the UEFA Europa League in 2011-12. He kept a clean sheet in the final, and Atletico had the fourth-best defensive record in La Liga for that campaign.
A second year ensued and again Atletico improved; 2012-13 saw Atleti finish third in the table with the best defensive record in the league. They also won the Copa del Rey with Courtois impressing with a string of improbable saves along the way.
This season, his third on loan at Atletico, he has matured into an excellent all-round goalkeeper; the reflexes and agility which had already been a hallmark of his ability have continued to shine, but his consistency, distribution and confidence in taking aerial balls have all improved markedly.
Along the way, Courtois has established himself as the national team goalkeeper for Belgium, shown Chelsea at close quarters just what he is capable of and somehow managed to retain respect and open-mindedness for both his teams in the face of constant questioning about his future.
Meanwhile, he's on the verge of an outstanding double; Atletico are in the Champions League final and at the top of La Liga with three matches left to play.
With the league's best defensive record, of course.
Cech vs. Change
Petr Cech has just had what is his best season in three or four years at Chelsea, so why change?
It is often said that goalkeepers enjoy their best years into their 30s, and Cech is not far off from hitting 32. Courtois, experienced though he is in relative terms, is a full decade younger, about to turn 22.
They could comfortably sell the Belgian now and almost treble their initial investment on Courtois, boosting their transfer ability for summer without weakening their first-team squad. They could also use him as a bargaining tool if there is serious interest in Diego Costa.
Who should Chelsea start as their No. 1 goalkeeper next season?
However, it would perhaps give them another couple of years of Cech playing at his highest level as his resale value diminishes significantly. At this point, they could likely sell the Czech international for a high price yet not lose out on first-team quality in his position and secure the position for the future.
It makes sound business sense for the team at absolutely no cost to the sporting side. Indeed, it would be argued by many that Courtois has an even higher ceiling than Cech, enjoying greater agility and reach than his positional rival without being slower to get to the ground on account of his height.
Jose Mourinho might prefer experience and stability in the position, but Chelsea should face the fact that he won't be around for much more than two or three years—his history proves that to be the case.
Courtois, on the other hand, could be in place for club and country for the next dozen years.
Chelsea should do everything possible to make sure they're the ones who benefit from his talents, even if that means offloading a long-term success like Cech.