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A Thibaut Courtois Profile(ish)

Earlier today I brought up a quote by a young man of whom I was previously unaware. Thibaut Courtois, a Belgian teenager with RC Genk, had claimed to be the heir to Petr Cech's rugby-capped mantle. I was pretty nonplussed by this, on account of not making a habit of watching the Belgian First Division. A few hours ago I had literally no idea who Courtois was apart from a precocious kid who thought he could play goalkeeper for Chelsea.

A comment by user arnehehe, who does watch the Belgian League, gave me some information and inspired me to seek more out, and soon I was watching clip after clip of young Courtois on Youtube. And normally, once I start researching anything, I write about it here - there's no point not sharing, after all, and even if I still know very little about Courtois it's now more than I did before.

With arnehehe already having described Courtois as fairly reminiscent of Manchester United target/possibly already signed player David de Gea, I had a rough idea of what to expect when I started loading the videos. Lanky, tall, strong and good reflexes? Check, check, check and check. Here's the best footage I found of Courtois, including his championship-securing save at the very end of the season:

What have we learned from that video? Well... to be honest, not a whole lot. It struck me as I was watching the above that trying to asses a goalkeeper's ability by staring at all of the good saves he made in a season is sort of like assessing my writing ability by looking at the four words in this post that I've spelled correctly the first time I've typed them. Not only is the sampling hilariously selective, what we're looking at doesn't even give us a full picture anyway.

So, yeah. I've seen Courtois make some good saves. Neato. He seems to have good reflexes, and he's quite big, and said saves were very impressive. Unfortunately I have no idea how good he is at distribution (one amusing shanked clearance aside) or commanding his area, two aspects of goalkeeping play that aren't typically considered highlight-able.

Getting an idea of a player's strengths from a highlight video alone is difficult unless they're doing absolutely impossible things - and that's for players at the very top of the game, not goalkeeper prospects (however talented) from Belgium. But what you can get a good idea of are weaknesses, and I think I picked up a couple while watching him.

Courtois' positioning seems ever so slightly too deep fairly consistently, seeming to rely on his ability to make saves rather than closing the angle and making saves easier. He's also a touch slow to react to the play around him. Both of those potential issues are correctable, and will probably fix themselves with experience, which, obviously, he doesn't have much of.

A possibly more problematic weakness in Courtois' game is a lack of ability to prevent rebounds or mitigate their effect. Most of his highlight saves - they admittedly very difficult - saw Courtois completely fail to control where the ball ended up after he'd saved them, and I'd be willing to bet that on some of those saves a goal was scored shortly afterwards due to his inability to push the ball to safety. Part of this is because he uses his legs so much to stop low shots as it's obviously very difficult to catch a ball cleanly with your feet. I'm not sure exactly how much one might expect this skill to develop in goalkeepers of Courtois' age, but it's something to watch closely.

And still, I'm nowhere close to telling you how good the teenager is at two out of the three things that make a good goalkeeper in modern football. He's clearly quite a skilled shot-stopper (you have to be to get first-team football when you're 16, which Courtois managed a few years ago after Genk went through a slew of injuries) and he has plenty of room to grow, but as for the rest... I haven't got a clue.

In other words, this is quite a bad profile. I'd quite like to see video of every cross Courtois has faced and every pass he's played, but I'm lucky enough to have any video at all. Consider this post half highlight package and half reminder that it's really, really hard to judge players off video, especially if they're not tricky attackers. The only way to really have an idea who he is now or what he might be is to watch him consistently, and that's something I probably won't ever be able to do. Ah well.

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