Earlier this year, I wrote a piece about Chelsea’s Petr Čech, basically stating that he is the best goalkeeper in the Premier League, one of the best in world football and isn’t given the credit he deserves, particularly from non-Chelsea fans.
I stand by every word I wrote back in May. I still regard Petr Čech as the best in the Premier League and I still rank him as one of the best in the world. I still believe that the period of January 2012 – May 2013 was possibly his best 18 month period in a Chelsea shirt. However, the last few months have not been the best in the career of the big Czech.
At the time of writing, Čech has conceded six goals in two games without making a single save and some of the goals he’s conceded have left question marks about his form. Chelsea’s habit of conceding goals in recent weeks comes as a surprise, as José Mourinho is renowned for his impenetrable defences. I’m not suggesting that Čech’s mishaps alone have been the cause of Chelsea’s recent goal leak, there have been troubles with Chelsea’s defenders, with both David Luiz and Gary Cahill attracting criticism this season. Ashley Cole’s below-par start to the campaign has also seen him take a back-seat to natural right back César Azpilicueta recently too.
The pivot in Chelsea’s midfield must also be examined, as they are the players who supposedly shield the defence, as well as Chelsea’s wingers, who as we know due to the dropping of Juan Mata, Mourinho prefers attacking players who will contribute defensively.
There’s clearly a lot to look at for Mourinho and the finger cannot be pointed in purely one direction. But Čech’s form has certainly declined of late, and that poses a worry for Chelsea, but it also poses an opportunity – one I believe they must take.
There are few people left in football who haven’t heard of Thibaut Courtois. Such has been his rise to stardom at Atlético Madrid that the world has sat up and taken notice. Last season, Atlético finished third, being the only team to keep relative pace with the powerhouses of Barcelona and Real Madrid. He set an Atlético Madrid record for going 820 minutes without conceding a goal. He won the Copa Del Rey, beating arch rivals Real Madrid in the final, and was awarded Man of the Match, and was also awarded the ‘Zamora Award’ for the 2012/13 season, which is given to the goalkeeper who has the lowest goals-to-games ratio in La Liga, and was named in the Spanish team of the year, beating the likes of Iker Casillas and Víctor Valdés. (He even has the term ‘Thibauting’ names after him in Belgium, inspired by a pose from a particular save he made in January 2013).
Moving on to the 2013/14 season, he and his Atlético side (at the time of writing) sit atop La Liga, joint 1st with Barcelona, three points ahead of neighbours Real Madrid. He has only conceded 9 goals so far in the league. Thibaut has also been nominated as one of three goalkeepers up for UEFA Team of the Year (alongside Petr Čech and Manuel Neuer).
To say the least, this guy is the real deal, and it’s been a long while since a comment like that would have been considered dubious. Courtois is regarded as one of the best, if not ‘the’ best young goalkeeper in the world, and has subsequently attracted attention from Barcelona.
Chelsea have shown their desire to keep him and rightly so. They would be mad to lose one of the hottest prospects in world football. The only issue being that they have another one of the world’s best goalkeepers currently playing for them.
At 31, Petr Čech has a good few more years left at the top. Goalkeepers can stay at their prime well into their late thirties and even into their forties. Chelsea now have a reasonably big dilemma. With a keeper of Čech’s quality, any team would be crazy to want rid of him at such a young age. But Thibaut Courtois alone could be enough of a reason to cut Petr Čech’s Chelsea career undeservingly short.
The Belgian stopper is long past the point where it would be acceptable to bring him back to be Čech’s number 2 for a year or so. If and when Courtois returns to Stamford Bridge, he will have to be number 1. There’s no doubt about it.
Petr Čech is such a popular figure amongst Chelsea fans. He’s a gentle giant. A mainstay, like John Terry and Frank Lampard of Chelsea’s glory years, having only missed one season under Abramovich. Seeing Čech leave would no doubt break the hearts of many Chelsea fans, especially at such a young age for a goalkeeper. Which is why I propose that if Čech’s shaky form continues to the end of the season, Chelsea must make the switch next summer.
It will soften the blow so to speak. The transition from Petr Čech to Thibaut Courtois is one that must be made, but for sentiment’s sake, doing it at a time when Čech isn’t at his best is probably wisest. I’ve no doubt in my mind that if Čech were to stay, he could easily regain his world class form, he will probably do so before the season’s up. But this is just an opportunity that in my opinion, Chelsea cannot afford to miss.
They must do what they can to prevent further alienation from Courtois. Chelsea have to make him feel important to prevent him from flirting with the likes of Barcelona. Courtois has never played for Chelsea, he doesn’t even own a home in London, after his transfer from Genk in 2011, he was straight off on loan to Atlético Madrid, a team who Courtois says he loves and has been with for the past 2 and half years. He has little connection to Chelsea other than receiving his wage slip from them. Chelsea must do whatever they can to avoid alienating Courtois further, and selling Čech would prove to the Belgian just how highly he’s regarded in West London. And it would be worth it, no matter how bitter a pill it would be to swallow for Chelsea fans to see Čech go.
It’s never nice to see a club legend leave, but bringing in someone of Courtois’ quality will definitely make the impact of exit softer. And at the age of 21 and given the promise he’s already shown in his short career, Thibaut Courtois can become as beloved by Chelsea fans as Čech is. Chelsea are building for the future, and the next big step will be to swap the legend that is Petr Čech, for a legend-elect in Thibaut Courtois, and in my opinion, they need to act fast.