It has been described by some as the toughest selection challenge the Abramovich era has faced to date, which of Chelsea’s two world class goalkeepers will be the club’s first choice? The youngster who has shown consistent brilliance or the almost faultless veteran? My answer to this predicament requires some analysis.
It has got all the makings of a great season for Chelsea. The depth is well and truly there, and the striker problem of last season looks set to be resolved by the signings of Diego Costa and the returning legend Didier Drogba. Issues are faced by Mourinho in other areas too, who to play as full backs following the signing of Filipe Luís, and in the attacking trio with the experienced yet brilliant Cesc Fàbregas adding some real quality to the Chelsea team. Among all these changes is in goal though, and Mourinho has taken the brave step to make both Thibaut Courtois and Petr Čech battle it out for that pivotal number 1 spot. The decision Mourinho makes could set the tone for the season.
Last season’s Chelsea side wasn’t all that different from the one which won the Europa League under Rafael Benitez, and Mourinho showed the value of keeping veterans such as Ashley Cole, Frank Lampard, Petr Čech, John Terry all central to club direction. However, Cole and Lampard are gone, suggesting Mourinho to not be overly sentimental which some have accused him of before. Letting Čech go would be the end of an era, but Mourinho can be ruthless, as shown by his dropping of Iker Casillas at Real Madrid. To suggest Mourinho would be overly sentimental and fearful of the consequences of letting the legend Čech go would be wrong; this will be a head over heart decision.
I am yet to speak to a Chelsea fan who wants either to go, but those leaning towards Čech often say if it’s not broken, don’t fix it. Čech is anything but broken, with stability being offered by the Czech since his arrival from Rennes in 2004, with the £7 million price tag looking like a bargain from pretty much day one. Čech had his own struggles upon arrival, with Carlo Cudicini being the stable first choice at the club until Čech became Mourinho’s undisputed number 1. His performances merited it, and even though Cudicini remained at the club until 2009, playing second fiddle to Čech for five long years. Time and time again, Čech proved he was not only Chelsea’s finest between the sticks, but one of the world’s in addition. Even a devastating knock on the skull from the knee of Stephen Hunt in October 2006 which reportedly put Čech close to death couldn’t deny him.
By February 2007, the spirited Čech was back in the grey of the Chelsea goalkeeper’s kit, and showed little signs of losing a step or two, with saves against Portsmouth and Liverpool standing out from the 2006/07 season. Throughout the changes Chelsea have faced over the years, whether they were managerial or in terms of players, Čech has been a constant. Besides the obvious shot stopping ability, Čech has excellent timing; his height makes corners against Chelsea always a difficult task, while his experience of winning three Premier League titles, the Champions League and five domestic Cups may prove invaluable alongside Drogba’s and Terry’s for the younger players. Rest assured, another season with Čech as number 1 will leave Chelsea in safe hands, literally as well as metaphorically.
On the other hand (pardon the pun), is Thibaut Courtois. A man whose positioning and reach makes him arguably the most exciting goalkeeper since Iker Casillas or Manuel Neuer. Fans of La Liga will know Courtois well, odd considering he is a goalkeeper aged just 22, but the fact he has been simply magnificent in every one of his three seasons at Atletico Madrid on loan from Chelsea, growing in quality under Diego Simeone in particular, means any club in the world (except maybe Bayern) would love easily have Courtois as their number one. He was named man of the match in Atletico’s historic 2-1 victory over Real Madrid which won them the Copa Del Rey in 2012/13, and his development reached new heights in 2013/14.
Alongside new Chelsea men Diego Costa and Filipe Luis, Courtois was a hugely important factor in Atletico’s incredible story of last season which saw them win La Liga and come within a minute of winning the Champions League too, before neighbours Real cruelly snatched glory from them. In the Champions League semi-final against Chelsea, Courtois showed Stamford Bridge what he could do, denying Eden Hazard from 6 yards out most notably. Much like Čech, Courtois has the physical presence and anticipation which sets the great goalkeepers apart from the good.
Yet, it comes back to age. Just like Čech was when he took the reins from Carlo Cudicini in 2004, Courtois is 22 now, ten years younger than Čech. Mourinho looks to build a Chelsea team around players now in the early to mid-20s, those such as Eden Hazard, Cesar Azpilicueta, Nemanja Matic and Diego Costa, and Courtois fits that age bracket. There is no reason to suggest that Courtois shall not be as successful, if not more successful than he was at Atletico, and if Mourinho goes with the Belgian, he will be solidifying Chelsea’s future in the goalkeeping department.
As a long term admirer of Petr Čech, I don’t relish saying this, but I feel the way forward is with the young Belgian, and that probably means Čech shall depart, either this summer or in January, he is simply too good to be a number two. However, what I feel Courtois has is unlimited potential and quality that Chelsea can nurture for the next 10 years or more, like they did with Čech.
Credit to whoever it was behind the scenes who noticed Courtois when he was at Genk and brought him to Chelsea because he is a rare talent who has all the ability in the world, and therefore should remain at the club. It would be a total waste to let him go now, whereas Čech has given 10 years of incredible service, service which Courtois could well match.
As a result, my heavy-hearted verdict is for Courtois to be Chelsea’s number 1.
Written by Joshua Sodergren
Follow Joshua on Twitter @Joshsalad365
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