Acquiring the services of a truly world-class goalkeeper can be one of the hardest tasks for any football manager, but Chelsea boss Jose Mourinho has the unusual fortune of possessing two.
However, that blessing does create a different kind of headache altogether. With only one pair of gloves up for offer, it is almost impossible to keep two genuinely brilliant custodians happy.
The meteoric rise of Thibaut Courtois means that Mourinho now faces the dilemma of being forced to choose between the Belgian and current Chelsea No.1 Petr Cech for a place in the starting line-up for next season.
That choice simply has to be Courtois.
Courtois has enjoyed a fantastic three-year spell on loan at Spanish club Atletico Madrid, culminating in a phenomenal La Liga title success this season—the first Rojiblancos triumph since 1996.
The 22-year-old goalkeeper played an instrumental role as Atletico conceded just 26 league goals all season, which was the best record of any La Liga club by some distance. A string of fine displays saw Courtois (via ESPN) claim an incredible 20 clean sheets in just 37 appearances. Additionally, the on-loan shot-stopper helped the Madrid club to a first Champions League final in 40 years.
Although this season is the one that has elevated Courtois into worldwide fame, his entire three-year spell at the Vicente Calderon has been a major success. The young custodian has lifted silverware in each of those campaigns, while racking up in excess of 150 appearances in the Spanish capital.
Combined with a Belgian Pro League title, won in his final campaign with previous club Genk, Courtois already boasts a more decorated CV than most. Meanwhile, next month’s FIFA World Cup will also afford him the chance to further enhance his reputation as one of the sport’s best young talents.
Only a small number of goalkeepers are ready for top-level football at such a premature stage, but Courtois is definitely one of them and it would be seen as a major step backwards if he were to spend next season in the dugout.
Last week, per BBC Sport, Courtois opened up to BBC Radio Five Live about the situation and concluded that sitting on the bench would not be a viable option. The Belgian said:
I have the biggest respect for Petr Cech. He is one of the best goalkeepers in the world so I think putting him and me in the same team is not the healthiest thing in the world.
The two of us want to play everything. Nobody will be happy to play in only the League Cup or FA Cup.
After playing in a Champions League final and lifting a La Liga title within the last month, it is not hard to understand why Courtois would be reluctant to play second fiddle at Stamford Bridge.
If ever Mourinho needed proof of Courtois’ value, then he need look no further than the Champions League semi-final in which the young Belgian helped Atletico overcome his parent club in order to book their place in the final.
Over two legs, Courtois demonstrated a maturity and level of performance that verify his ability to play at the very top level—in spite of his tender age.
Those performances in those crucial matches led to widespread praise, notably from former Manchester United defender Gary Neville.
In the aftermath of Atletico’s victory, the Sky Sports presenter hinted that Chelsea should drop Cech in favour of Courtois, labelling the Belgian a “special talent” and stating that the 22-year-old could tend the Stamford Bridge net for another 10-15 years.
And following the revelations that the player would not be happy with being Cech’s understudy, arguments in favour of allowing the current Chelsea goalkeeper to depart are certainly gaining momentum.
Make no mistake, Cech is still a great goalkeeper and has been one of the focal figures in Chelsea’s most decorated era. However, at a time where the likes of Ashley Cole are leaving Stamford Bridge, perhaps it is time for another Blues legend to pass the torch on to younger blood.
The 32-year-old Czech Republic No.1 isn’t quite in the winter of his career, and it is worth remembering that the Chelsea star was named in this season’s PFA Team of the Year. However, it is commonly agreed that his level of performance has somewhat declined in recent years and some would argue that he never truly recovered from that infamous head injury sustained at Reading in late 2006.
That’s not to detract from Cech’s obvious talent, but it would be unforgivable if Chelsea were to allow Courtois to leave on a permanent basis.
As per Transfermarkt.com, the Belgian is contracted at Stamford Bridge until the summer of 2016. However, according to Goal.com’s Chris Davie, Atletico have insisted that Courtois wants to remain in the Spanish capital. If this is true, it may take a monumental reaction from Mourinho to keep one of Chelsea’s hottest properties at Stamford Bridge.
Promoting Courtois to No.1 is the only gesture that will ensure that happens.
The Blues are slowly but surely making the transition from one set of players to the next and Courtois has to be instated as the club’s No.1 at some point in the near future.
With Cech set to miss the start of 2014/15, due to an injury sustained against Atletico, now is the perfect time for Mourinho to make that decision.
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