Thibaut Courtois tarnishes Chelsea legacy as fans rejoice at Madrid move
Thibaut Courtois was Chelsea's problem child, but thankfully for the club's supporters he's not their issue anymore. Finally, after what feels like an eternity of his whinging and whining, the goalkeeper has realised his "dream" of being transferred to Real Madrid.
There was always a chance that the drawn out saga centred around Courtois' desire to return to the Spanish capital would become bitter and twisted. No other player in the Chelsea history has polarised fan opinion in the way the Belgium international has. Indeed, no other Blues player has seen the vestiges of support for his cause evaporate into nothing in such spectacular fashion as it did when the news broke on Monday that Courtois had failed to report back to Chelsea for preseason training.
Having spurned the opportunity to talk with new Chelsea manager Maurizio Sarri, a further no-show by Courtois on Tuesday brought about a social media meltdown as supporters unified to denounce the keeper for the ultimate cardinal sin in their eyes -- disrespecting the club.
It had all started out sweetly enough in 2011 when Courtois was signed from Genk for a fee of £7.9 million. Viewed as the long-term successor to Petr Cech, who was still at the peak of his powers, a loan deal with Atletico Madrid was agreed. The young keeper, 19 at the time, would end up spending three seasons with the Rojiblancos -- a hugely successful period for the club who won La Liga, the Copa del Rey, the Europa League and were runners-up in the Champions League final.
So far so good, but when Jose Mourinho called Courtois back to Chelsea in the summer of 2014, that's when the tribulations started. The keeper had been stand-offish about coming to Stamford Bridge and refused to sign a new contract unless he was given assurances by Mourinho he would be first choice between the posts. The arrogance of youth held sway, the Special One buckled, and Cech -- then just 32 and still viewed by many Chelsea supporters as the best keeper in the world -- was marginalised and would eventually be sold to rivals Arsenal.
Courtois signed a new five-year deal, but the circumstances didn't sit easy with fans and as a consequence many questioned whether or not playing for Chelsea meant anything to him.
Of course he was shown plenty of welcoming love by the fans, the chant "Thibaut, Thibaut!" would echo around Stamford Bridge, but that didn't stop Courtois at every given opportunity, particularly when away on international duty with Belgium, talking about his love of Madrid.
Yes, there was sympathy for his domestic situation, as he had a Spanish girlfriend and two children back home, but there was no need for Courtois to constantly repeat himself. Chelsea had bent over backwards to accommodate his wishes, even shunting aside goalkeeping coach Christophe Lollichon -- brought in originally to work with Cech -- so the apparent lack of loyalty rankled.
Real Madrid making no secret of their ambition to sign Courtois didn't help matters and once again the Belgian stood off signing an improved contract with Chelsea, making a series of "wait and see" non-committal comments.
Although he played a major part in winning two Premier League titles, many fans wondered if he'd actually improved as a goalkeeper. As it transpired, his Achilles' heel was exposed earlier this year during a Champions League tie with Barcelona in the Camp Nou when Lionel Messi beat him twice by putting the ball through his legs. The keeper's disclosure this was his area of weakness drew ridicule and scorn from fans, but he seemed unfazed by it. By the end of the season it was a case of enough-is-enough.
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Sarri hit the nail squarely on the head when he said he only wanted players "with a very high level of motivation". That was never going to be Courtois, and his inability to meet the new boss face-to-face bore all the hallmarks of cowardice.
When the news broke on Tuesday that Athletic Bilbao goalkeeper Kepa Arrizabalaga was set to sign for Chelsea, the sense of joy among fans was palpable even if the fee was an astronomical £71.6m.
Finally, closure over Courtois was in sight. In the end it mattered little to them that the deal agreed with Real for the Belgian to get his move to the Bernabeu amounted to just £35m, sweetened with a one-year loan of Croatia international midfielder Mateo Kovacic.
Football is a simple business. Supporters need to feel an affinity for a player, and that's a two-way street. When a bond is established, it can override all manner of problems.
Unfortunately, Courtois never really got to grips with this concept at Chelsea because deep down his heart never looked in it at the Bridge. It didn't have to end this way, but it has and the manner of Courtois' departure has all but ensured his legacy will remain tarnished.