Thibaut Courtois’ future was one of the big storylines over the summer, with the young Belgian getting constantly linked to moves back to Spain and rumors of discord within the goalkeeping camp with coach Christophe Lollichon brewing ominously.
Given that new head coach Antonio Conte also had his preferred coaches to bring alongside with him to the club, Chelsea did the sensible thing and moved Lollichon into a new role after almost ten years at the club. (Chelsea are calling him a “goalkeeper development coach” with vague duties of developing the club’s goalkeepers and “identifying future ones.”)
The new man in charge of goalkeepers was 49-year-old Gianluca Spinelli, who had worked with Conte for two years at the Italian national team and had been Genoa’s goalkeeper coach since 2004, winning top coaching honors in the Serie A three times since 2012. Most importantly, he’s brought new ideas to the position at Chelsea and Courtois credits those for his improvement in key areas this season.
“Training with Spinelli is completely different as he’s from the Italian school. He wants me to push more laterally straight away when I dive, rather than taking a step forward first. As a youngster I learned to put one foot forward before I dived, but he prefers goalkeepers to move laterally first. It has improved the speed of my diving and I’m getting down quicker.”
It’s the little things that sometimes make the biggest difference. We could see some of Courtois’s quickness on the dive with his tremendous save on Welbeck’s header on Saturday, for example.
“We’re also doing a lot more ball-work in training, always practising in situations which are game realistic. Spinelli likes us to really attack the ball with our feet, as well as coming for crosses, which is a very Italian trait, so you could say I’ve learned that from [Gianluigi] Buffon. I’m always trying to learn things from different goalkeepers.”
In his interview with Matt Hughes of The Times, Courtois also talks about improving with his feet — he started last season while he was injured and doing rehab work, which he had talked about before — and improving his own and the squad’s mentality with Conte’s help.
“People talk about our improvement this season, but you could also ask why we went from being champions by eight points to finishing tenth last season. It’s not just a case of last year we were so s**t, this year we’re so good. We were always a good team, but after winning the championship our mentality dropped. We maybe thought that everything was easy, but in the Premier League there are no easy games. We lacked intensity at the start and it was hard to pull out of it.”
“This year we’ve had a new mentality, particularly with the new coach coming in. He’s brought the winning mentality and hunger to win again. He’s very hungry and we can feel that in training, he’s very close on us every single day. There’s no let-up. He’s on to us that we have to win, win, win. After we lost at Arsenal in September the players got together and said, ‘We cannot have a season like last year, we have to change something and work harder.’ Our mentality changed.”
While Courtois continues to be linked with moves back to Spain (because you can’t ever kill rumors), there’s also been talk of a new contract extension coming soon for the 24-year-old. If he play our cards right, he’ll be our goalkeeper for the next decade, our next Gigi Buffon, as Conte put it recently.
“I always think I’m the best [but] I feel good this year and think I’m playing better than ever before at Chelsea, better than my first year.”
-Thibaut Courtois; source: The Times