On-loan Atlético Madrid goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois will most likely avoid the awkward situation of facing his parent club Chelsea if the two sides are paired in the Champions League semi-final draw tomorrow. Under the terms of the loan deal, Atlético must pay Chelsea £5 million – £2.5 million for each leg – if they want the Belgian to face his employers.
Chelsea, who bought Courtois from Genk in 2011, inserted the clause to avoid a similar embarrassment to the one experienced in 2012 when the sides met in the European Super Cup. The Spaniards smashed the then Champions League holders 4-1 with a hat-trick from Radamel Falcao and a stupendous performance from Courtois, who was on loan from Chelsea.
Courtois has had an impressive third season in the Spanish capital, by helping his adoptive side reach the semis of Europe’s elite club competition and break the top two stranglehold enjoyed by Real Madrid and Barcelona for years.
His manager Diego Simeone has paid tribute to the keeper and called him the side’s most important player, ahead of key striker Diego Costa and playmaker, Koke. Atlético president Enrique Cerezo confirmed the clause, but insisted the £5 million figure was unaffordable. If Atlético do draw Chelsea then second-choice Dani Aranzubia is expected to stand between the sticks, despite only featuring only once this season.
There is an equal chance that Chelsea and Atlético will avoid each other, with Bayern Munich and Real Madrid the other potential opponents for each club in the last four. However, despite the fact Courtois’ parent side have measures in place to charge Atlético for the privilege of playing the keeper, the deal does seem strange. In England, especially, most loan agreements have a clause that does not allow a player to face his parent club over the course of a season. The sum of £5 million is clearly a considerable amount to Atlético but is small beer to a club like Chelsea and the billionaire Russian owner, Roman Abramovich. However, fee is in place to make sure the keeper is unlikely to face his parent club and it is likely to have the desired effect.
Despite the fact Courtois enjoys unfailing popularity at Estadio Vicente Calderón, his future remains unclear. Although he said he will make a decision at the end of the season as to whether he would like to stay where he is or return to England, various media outlets have linked Courtois with a host of clubs. Clubs in the Premier League, La Liga, Serie A, the Bundesliga and Ligue 1 have all expressed an interest in the player.
A move to to anywhere other than the Premier League or La Liga is unlikely. Bayern Munich have the highly-respected Manuel Neuer while Paris Saint-Germain have the highly-rated Salvatore Sirigu. Monaco is a potential destination but with the financial fair play rules kicking in, the principality and tax haven club will need to be careful when it comes to wages. Barcelona are on the lookout for a keeper following the seven-month layoff of Victor Valdes, but they are also serving a year-long ban for illegal transfer activities. Another season at Atlético or a return to Chelsea as Petr Cech’s understudy beckon.
Commentary by Robert Shepherd