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Anatomy of a transfer rumor: Thibaut Courtois to Real Madrid, part 9834

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Atletico Madrid v Chelsea FC - UEFA Champions League Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images

We’re halfway through the international break, and the rumor-reruns continue apace. The latest “big” story is Thibaut Courtois being linked with Real Madrid once again, which we’ve certainly heard more than once before. And it’s entirely unsurprising that the Spanish media have started pushing it again just as the latest reports arrived of Chelsea restarting contract negotiations that were put off during the summer.

Courtois is of course an “honorary Spaniard” as Cesc Fàbregas once put it, spent three years living and playing in Madrid, has a couple children with a Spanish ex-girlfriend, and someone who’s actually more comfortable speaking Spanish than his native Dutch and French these days, so these rumors are an inescapable side effect of his very existence. But just as before, there’s little reason to think there’s anything to be concerned about. Chelsea have invested a lot in Courtois, in terms of effort and time and money and expectations and hopes and dreams, and with performances to back up those promises, he’s set to be the Chelsea starting goalkeeper for a long, long time.

Unless of course he isn’t. Courtois will be the first one to tell you that nothing is 100 per cent in football and that’s just the reality of it all. With a little over 1.5 years left on his contract, it is in fact the right time for an extension; and there’s not much time to waste.

For what it’s worth (very little), the latest rumors started with a report in whatever Diario Gol may be — just another Don Balon clone, in all likelihood — which claimed that Real Madrid are once again looking to sell Keylor Navas for about the millionth time and replace him with Courtois (or De Gea or Oblak or whoever). They point out that Courtois is “comfortable” in London but “may” want to leave anyway as he “believes” Chelsea incapable of winning the Champions League.

This was then picked up by the Star, who slapped on a transfer fee of £53m and attributed actual interest in the move to Courtois — “interest” in the headline, just “intrigued” in the body. The Express, as usual, echoed the Star, in response to which we got the report from Nizaar Kinsella about Chelsea stepping up efforts to get the new contracts for both Courtois and Hazard done. Chelsea can play this game, too! (This same Real Madrid rumor dance is undoubtedly going on with Hazard, too.)

Into this developing situation stepped Marca, who tend to rep whatever Real Madrid want to or should (in their opinion) do. Their report was innocuous enough, stating the situation — no Courtois contract yet — and the long-standing understanding that he’d want to return to Spain at some point, eventually. But when this report was picked up by the likes of the Metro and the Mirror (not to mention far worse places like CaughtOffside), suddenly it became Courtois “refusing” to sign a new contract and “holding out” for a Real move. That’s just how tabloids roll.

The Mail were almost the voice of reason at this point claiming that Real were simply “tracking” Courtois — when are they not? — but others like the Express, talkSport, and Sky Sports have just re-reported that most extreme version without much of a filter, if any, thus lending weight to them and continuing to escalate the situation.

And thus we arrive to now. Nothing’s actually happened (in all likelihood), but the media echo chamber has basically ensured that the story has grown into something significant through this feedback loop between foreign and domestic outlets.

Some might call it fake news. We just call it transfer rumors.