Thibaut Courtois. Why invite it? The speculation. The doubt. Why voluntarily drive a wedge between yourself and Chelsea’s support?
He was at it again last week. Talking up a return to Madrid. Not three months after Diego Costafinally had his return to Atletico Madrid rubberstamped. There he was again, conceding his future lay beyond Stamford Bridge.
“Everybody knows that due to my personal situation, Spain attracts me,” he confessed on local Spanish radio. “If it is not now, it will be in some years.”
Okay, okay, we all know the “personal situation”. His kids are with Mum in Madrid and he wants to be closer to them. But how does continually talking up the prospect of a return help Chelsea? How does it help Antonio Conte, his manager, build a culture of unity and commitment when one of the senior players is regularly in the public eye declaring he wants to be somewhere else?
You never had this from Didier Drogba. Nor Branislav Ivanovic or Petr Cech. All foreigners. All successful elsewhere before arriving at Cobham. Yet, when their time was up, they had to be kicked out of the club kicking and screaming.
In contrast, the way Courtois has talked over the past 18 months it’s like he’s simply marking time until Real Madrid come up with the right offer.
Now of course on Friday he backtracked, Courtois declaring on Belgian radio: “Of course there’s the situation with my children, but I’m happy here. I don’t see a reason why I wouldn’t sign a new deal.
“There’s no pressure. I want to have an agreement before the end of season. With Chelsea, normally.”
But we’ve seen all this before. How many times has Courtois talked up Spain, Real Madrid, even his regular contact with their bloody president, then to walk it all back? The playbook is becoming tiresome.
That the latest round of ‘yes, no, maybe’ from Courtois came in the week of a dismal defeat at West Ham should force the issue. Conte had played his part. The previous week the manager declared his goalkeeper “among the best in the world” and made it clear he wanted Courtois’ signature “on a new contract”.
And how was he repaid? Well, by having to – again – put out a spotfire sparked by Courtois’ latest chat on Spanish radio. If it was just about a new contract. About getting parity with what David de Gea earns at Manchester United. Then he could easily leave it to his manager to fight his corner. Conte has been crystal – he wants his goalkeeper to stay.
But by his own admission, in that sorta, kinda apology on Belgian radio, Courtois admits none of this is about money
“In the media they’re always talking about money. I’m not denying that it plays a role, but everything has to be in its right place,” he says.
Maybe it’s time for Roman Abramovich, the Blues owner, to put a stop to all this. To call Courtois’ bluff. If Chelsea isn’t the “right place”, then help him find one that is.
It’s been four years since Chelsea had an offer accepted by Birmingham City for Jack Butland. At £3.5m Brum were willing to sell. But Butland refused to talk to Chelsea, knowing his progress would be stunted sitting on the bench behind Petr Cech.
Today, he’s an England international and while it’d take more than ten times what Chelsea had settled for him with Birmingham, it’d still be less than what they can demand from a Real or PSG for Courtois.
Conte nailed it after Saturday’s defeat at London stadium: “We started with a defeat at home to Burnley. We lost another game, against Man City, but we have reasons to justify that. Then when you lose to Crystal Palace, who were bottom, and West Ham, who are in a bad position, you can lose points in these games but it means you are not in the title race.”
Burnley, Palace and the Hammers. You lose those games through character. Bottle. Not ability. Conte has long spoken of this current team being in transition. Of finding new cornerstones. Foundations. For a team that has lost titans like Drogba, JT, Cech and Ivanovic over the past two years.
And you need those new leaders to be committed. To be rowing in the same direction. Courtois’ words continually suggest he’s not on board. And there’s a local lad. A young England international. Who Chelsea would lose nothing in replacing the Belgian with.
It’s time for management to draw a line in the sand. To get this rebuild back on track. The message is obvious: Sell Courtois and buy Butland.