With the kind of season Chelsea FC is having, it should not come as a surprise when underperforming players, who have previously shown their class, come under fire. It began with the likes of Ivanovic, through Hazard, then Costa, and now it has come full circle; Thibaut Courtois has come under intense scrutiny recently.
The reason is easy to see. While the goalkeeper he replaced, and consequently caused to be sold, is having a brilliant season, keeping clean sheet after clean sheet and making brilliant saves weekly, Thibaut has struggled for form. Petr Cech’s excellence so far has made the poorness of Courtois all the more evident, and perhaps for the Chelsea fans, regrettable. “Why did we sell Cech for this guy?” is a question most would probably be asking. The answer is obvious. Thibaut Courtois is a fantastic goalkeeper, and has been for about five years at the top level. It is even more impressive when you consider that he is still only 23.
So, why is Courtois having such a horrid season? Let’s see. He started the season with a red card in the first game, at home to Swansea. After he returned from suspension, he put in decent performances and managed to avoid the kind of criticism other players were getting until he got injured and didn’t play a game for about three months. Since he returned from injury, he has been evidently poor. Maybe he was rushed back without fully recovering from the injury? Maybe he just hasn’t been able to get himself back to his normal great level since his injury? Maybe his defence is leaving him too exposed, and in a time like this when his own form is poor, his inability to step up means he takes most of the blame? One thing is certain: this season’s performances do not mean that Courtois is a bad goalkeeper. If you honestly believe that, then you didn’t see him at his best. Hint: he was near unplayable many times.
We have to always consider the context of Chelsea’s current season. It has been a disaster. They have had to sack their greatest manager ever in the process. If that doesn’t give the clearest indication of how horribly their season has gone, nothing will. Key players like Hazard and Fabregas have struggled for form. Their form cannot even be described as merely bad; rather, horrible. The current defence is the worst Chelsea defence in over a decade. Their midfield has been embarrassing; Matic now looks like a Sunday league player, Oscar and Fabregas have mostly been worse than disappointing. Their attack has been mostly blunt save for a few impressive performances, and Costa, despite his disciplinary troubles, looks to have found his form again since the departure of Mourinho. Almost everybody in the team is playing badly. To put all the blame at the feet of Courtois is rather simplistic, especially considering the fact that he was out for three months and seems to be in the worst form of his career, like everybody else in the team.
Of course, this kind of form is inexcusable for a top goalkeeper and at a club like Chelsea. However, these things happen. Writing off Courtois and his immense talent because of one bad season is rather jejune. Do we all remember how quickly De Gea was written off, especially by his own fans, for the first two years after he joined Manchester United? Everybody doubted Sir Alex Ferguson’s decision to stick with him, and there were even calls for him to be replaced by Lindegaard and a host of other goalkeepers. Well, look at De Gea now! Remember when Joe Hart was so bad that he was being kept on the bench by Pantillimon? Again, these things happen. Poor form is a normal thing in a footballer’s career. It does not define anybody, unless the form becomes a permanent thing.
Jose Mourinho is one of the best managers in the world, and has a valid claim to being number one, or two at least. For over decade, he has made decision after decision, and he is almost always right, especially when it comes to decisions such as this. He chose then 22-year old Thibaut Courtois over a goalkeeper like Petr Cech who he brought to Chelsea and who has been top class and reliable for over a decade. You may not quite trust Courtois yet, and I know trusting Mourinho might be harder following the events of this season, but trust him on this. Trust Jose on the Courtois choice.
Courtois, when in form, is a world class goalkeeper. This is a no-brainer if you have consistently seen him at his best, especially during his three years at Atletico Madrid. Questions about his class as a goalkeeper are a bit over the top following poor form for half a season, one in which the entire team is playing badly. It is simply too early to start to doubt the quality of the lad. Form is temporary, class is Thibaut Courtois.
By Astorre Cerebronè
Twitter – @Cerebrone