Thibaut Courtois and Petr Cech were born ten years and eight days apart. For simplicity's sake, let's call that a decade.
Courtois and Cech, born a decade apart, made their Chelsea debuts a decade apart (2004 vs. 2014). They won their first Premier League titles a decade apart (04-05 vs. 14-15). They forced beloved goalkeepers into the background a decade apart (Cudicini vs. Cech).
The succession plan — a rarity, considering Chelsea's troubles at finding successors for the likes of Drogba, Lampard, Cole, and Terry — was as solid as it was intriguing in its parallels.
Cech was the model professional and willing backup once Courtois was anointed first-choice goalkeeper, and then, twelve months later, left of his own free will for one of our biggest rivals. And yet, it's Courtois who's constantly under fire, be that on the pitch, thanks to shoddy defending or off the pitch, thanks to his habit of making annoying comments in the media. Cech willingly traded Chelsea blue for Arsenal red to stay in London; Courtois would willingly trade Chelsea blue for Atleti red to go back to Madrid.
Perhaps the problem is that this latter bit isn't happening a decade apart. Of course Chelsea do control Courtois's contract and he pointed out the obvious, as is also his habit, that said contract runs for three more years.
"I have a contract with Chelsea for three more seasons. In 2018, when I enter the last year of my contract, we will have to weigh up whether it is best to renew or leave."
-Thibaut Courtois; source: Marca via Independent
There would be far fewer questions of loyalty and commitment if Courtois had unequivocally lived up to his billing as one of the world's handful best. As tough as it may be to evaluate goalkeeping talent, it's probably safe to say that he hasn't quite (yet). Neuer, De Gea, Courtois was a common topic of debate in 2014, but a season affected by a major injury (the first of his career) and turmoil on the pitch and in the dressing room relegated that question out of relevancy last year. Also gone are Courtois's seemingly super-human abilities to dominate the area, especially in the air, and a penchant for making spectacular saves. Then again, he is still just 24.
And of course, with every passing day, Čech's legend grows, alongside his remembered skills, saves, and legacy. He's not done incredibly well at Arsenal, but certainly saved them a few points last season. Outside of the Community Shield, he's yet to beat Chelsea, but maybe tomorrow he can help them celebrate Wenger's 20 years in England.
At the other end, it will be Courtois no doubt between the sticks (if for nothing else other than Begovic's sudden devolution into sketch comedy), but the ever-growing feeling is that he's not long for the shirt. If Courtois ends up leaving Chelsea before Cech leaves Arsenal, the obvious answer to the obvious question will not be a happy one.
It was a bold decision to replace a sligthly fading but still excellent Cech with the promise of Courtois, and as such, we should be able to hold him up as a shining example for everything that's right with the plans, strategies, and methods of the Chelsea Board. He should be the example for all to see that the loan system does work. Instead, he's yet another stick with which to beat the people in charge, for replacing a Chelsea legend with this ungrateful twerp. Maybe in a decade, it will be someone else in Courtois's position as the now veteran club legend fades into the background. Or maybe he will have long gone back to Madrid. It's impossible to tell, though I'm sure we'll apply plenty of convenient hindsight to help us deal with the situation, whatever it may become.
For now, all we can do is wait and see and hope for the best.