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Thibaut Courtois vs. Christophe Lollichon: Situation report

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Just when it looked like the situation around Thibaut Courtois had reached a calm resolution — "100 per cent" staying, said the 23-year-old earlier this week after earlier waffling when it had come to fully committing himself to the Chelsea cause — here come more destabilizing rumors.

Once again, it's Duncan Castles pushing this narrative (first reporting it on April 21).  We had come to trust him on news and rumors regarding Jose Mourinho over the years and it's entirely conceivable that he had received some inside information regarding Courtois as well from his usual channels.  That could explains lines such as...

With then-manager Jose Mourinho's backing, Courtois was excused from adhering to elements of Lollichon's training program while he recovered from surgery and returned to first-team duty. Under interim manager Guus Hiddink, however, Courtois returned to working under the Frenchman.

-source: One World Sports

Now, obviously, Courtois would not have been working with the coach (certainly not fully) while rehabbing his injury, so that's a bit of a weird way of putting things.  I also find the whole narrative that had emerged later of Courtois being "rushed back" into service a baffling way of looking at things considering that Courtois's recovery was right on schedule.

Courtois returned to training 10 weeks after surgery and returned to match action two weeks after that, against AFC Bournemouth on December 5th.  None of that seems like rushing anything, but none of that actually rules out a real conflict between goalkeeper and goalkeeping coach either.

In fact, Guus Hiddink has hinted that perhaps not everything is hunky-dory, but that it's also not something irresolvable.

"They are different personalities -- we don't neglect that -- but they do well. They are very professional, they work hard, and the most important thing is that Courtois recently said that he's very happy at Chelsea and he will stay at the club."

"If Steve [Atkins, press officer] and I have a big dispute it's not 'Steve has to go or I have to go.' That's not what is going on. [Courtois] is happy here and then we work."

"You have to cope and be professional to each other, and they do. I look at the training of the squad and the training of them, which is mostly separate. I watch and I see the full commitment of executing the exercises."

-Guus Hiddink; source: ESPN

Another part to this story is Antonio Conte's coaching staff.  Initial rumors claimed that he would be bringing upwards of ten new coaches with him, but reports around the time of his actual signing had reduced that to about a handful.  His long-time goalkeeper coach Gianluca Spinelli was not among them, with the implication being that Lollichon would continue in that role as he had since late 2007.  One must wonder what the reluctance behind changing goalkeeping coaches would be, if that's truly what's going on...

If Courtois is to be our long-term goalkeeper, keeping him happy a la Cech (for whom we brought in Lollichon in the first place) would be a wise move.  If that means bringing in a different coach, perhaps the one he had suggested before (when we thought Lollichon would follow Cech to Arsenal) or the one Conte has worked with for a long time, then what's stopping us?  Sure, Lollichon appears to be a great coach, but is he more valuable than a goalkeeper for the next decade?  Is he more valuable than setting up Conte for success as much as we possibly can, rather than slotting him into existing structures that could limit him?

I suspect we'll find out some answers soon enough to these and many other questions.  Some may be to our liking, others may not.  The resolution could very well see either Courtois or Lollichon leaving, though the former's asking price (£50-65m) seems to be an overly elaborate way of saying that he's not for sale, while the latter has almost become part of the furniture over the past decade at Cobham and Stamford Bridge.  Tough decisions?  Simple decisions?  We shall see what comes next...

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