BARCELONA, SPAIN - SEPTEMBER 24: Thibaut Courtois of Club Atletico de Madrid looks on during the La Liga match between FC Barcelona and Club Atletico de Madrid at Camp Nou on September 24, 2011 in Barcelona, Spain. barcelona won 5-0 and Messi scored his second hat-trick this season. (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)
When Chelsea nabbed Thibaut Courtois from RC Genk in the Juliper League, few really knew what to expect from the Belgian teenager. He'd proclaimed himself heir apparent to Petr Cech's throne, but we'd heard that before, and nobody was even very sure if he'd be a first-choice starter at Atletico Madrid, where he was sent on loan (replacing Manchester United-bound David de Gea).
Since, Courtois has done very little but impress. He's cemented his place as the team's number one and had a long string of good performances in a tough league with very little help from his more or less incompetent defenders. We're at the point where we can seriously start thinking about him coming into the Chelsea first team a few years down the line, and considering Cech's recent issues an up-and-coming star would be very useful to have.
But there's still some development to be done, and it's unclear as to the best path to take with Courtois. De Gea's having difficulty with the La Liga/Premier League switch, and I wouldn't want to drop our baby ace straight into the fire like Sir Alex has done his. For his part, Courtois seems to think another year at the Vicente Calderon is a good idea:
A second year [at Atletico] would be fine. That is a decision that depends on Chelsea, Atletico Madrid and me. There is time to decide because we are in January but I like Madrid, it is a very good club and if I can stay a second year here that would be great.
Another 18 months in Spain, then a loan deal at a mid-table Premier League side that could use a goalkeeper? That sounds about right to me. Cech can probably hold things together through the end of the 2013/14 season and by then Courtois should be ready to give him some serious competition for the #1 shirt. As good as Courtois has been, it seems unlikely that he'll be prepared for a high-pressure role with a top-tier team before then. What does everyone else think?
No matter what, this is quite a nice problem to have!