The Chelsea Academy hasn't produced a first team regular for the club in quite some time — it has produced several for other teams, it should be noted — but Thibaut Courtois alone is probably enough to prove that at least our policy of loaning out promising players is working as intended. The 23-year old is undoubtedly one of the top goalkeepers in the world already, and given his age, it’s not hard to believe that the best is yet to come.
Courtois joined the club from Eredivisie side Genk in July 2011 as a complete unknown to most fans. While the Blues had been very publicly watching Genk matches for the better part of a season, the target in question was widely believed to be attacking midfielder Kevin De Bruyne. He would in fact follow in Courtois' path a few months later.
By the summer of 2014, even though he had not played a single minute for the Blues, not even in preseason, there wasn’t a Chelsea fan on the planet who wasn’t aware of Thibaut Courtois. The young man had developed into one of the world's elite goalkeepers during his three seasons on loan, playing a major part in Atlético Madrid's surprise La Liga title and stunning Champions League run to the final. Chelsea were at a crossroads, facing the momentous task of having to decide between Petr Cech and the man ten years his junior. Do we choose the world class goalkeeper or do we choose the other world class goalkeeper? The club opted for youth and named Courtois the starter rather than risk the prospect of losing him. Courtois signed a new five-year deal in September, while Petr Cech graciously agreed to stick around for the season as a backup and a mentor, adding to his own legend.
Our new number one goalkeeper — though he prefers to wear #13 — was outstanding during his debut campaign with the Blues, starting 39 matches in all competitions and being the last line in the best defeence of the league as Chelsea won a Premier League and League Cup double. His command of the area was excellent, he displayed incredible reflexes and shot stopping ability, and he was rarely caught in a position in which he wasn’t able to make a decent attempt at a save.
One of the areas in which Cech excelled was his communication with the defense, and at first, there was some question whether or not Courtois would need a little bit of time to adjust to his new teammates. Fortunately, those concerns were dismissed very early, as Courtois adjusted quickly, and the Blues ran out to a virtually insurmountable lead very early in the campaign. And then ran out to a definitely insurmountable lead after the turn of the year.
By the end of the season, it was quite clear that Courtois was the long term answer at Stamford Bridge, despite the presence of a club legend who was still among the game’s best. As a reward for his exemplary, legendary service and behavior, Petr Cech was allowed to leave the club. He was also given free reign to choose his next destination, by the owner himself, even if that destination turned out to be rivals Arsenal.
The most exciting part of Courtois’ ascendance to the Stamford Bridge goalkeeping throne could be that the best is still yet to come. While the Belgian plays well beyond his years in terms of positioning, and reads the game at a level you’d expect from someone ten years his senior, there are still plenty of moments in which I couldn’t help but feel he’s still got a bit to learn. Given the absolutely amazing tools which Courtois has at his disposal, it’s scary to think just how good he could become with several more seasons of first team football.
Thibaut Courtois will be the first name on Jose Mourinho’s team sheet in the vast majority of matches this season, and there’s little reason to think that the Belgian won’t improve on an impressive debut this season. The rest of the Premier League should be wary, as Chelsea have replaced the league’s best goalkeeper over the past decade with someone who will likely claim that honor for the next ten years.
We Ain't Got No History's 2015/16 season preview was edited by Joe Tweeds and designed by Graham MacAree. If you've enjoyed the work of the authors who generously donated their time to this project, please share with your friends and consider supporting The Chelsea Foundation as a way of saying thank you.Credits