No team sheet will be as eagerly anticipated and scrutinized on the first weekend of the Premier League season as that of Chelsea. Manager José Mourinho must choose between two of the world’s top goalkeeper in Petr Čech and Thibaut Courtois, knowing that the man left out will be the subject of a flurry of transfer speculation and could well push for an exit before the close of the window.
Čech has been Chelsea’s No.1 for 10 years and at age 32 still feasibly has several years left in him as a top-level goalkeeper. The man 10 years his junior, Courtois, meanwhile, has excelled in his three seasons on loan at Atletico Madrid, with his spectacular reach and athleticism helping them to the Spanish title and Champions League final last term. Courtois repeatedly made it clear during his time away that he would only return to Chelsea, for whom he has yet to play a competitive game since signing form Genk, if he was first choice.
Mourinho explained at his press conference on Friday that neither Čech nor Courtois yet knows who will be named as the starter to face newly promoted Burnley on Monday. However, he once again claimed that it was anything but a problem to have two exceptional goalkeepers.
“I can’t tell you [who will play] because they don’t know and the team doesn’t know,” he said, according to Chelsea’s official website. “What I can say is that in my opinion, with all respect to fantastic goalkeepers around the world, I think Chelsea has two of the three best goalkeepers in the world, which is unique.
“Is it a problem for me? It’s a great problem because they are both fantastic. To have Čech and Courtois is a good problem every manager in every club would like to have. Obviously during the season if one is definitely my first choice I will have to support and stimulate the other one. I can’t have one incredible goalkeeper on the bench for three or four months waiting for a Capital One Cup game.”
Despite Mourinho’s comments, it is difficult to envisage either stopper being content to play second fiddle for even a single season. Certainly there is little history of it working out. Real Madrid tried to keep both Iker Casillas and Diego López happy last season by fielding the latter in league games and the former in cup competitions, including the Champions League. Yet Casillas looked rusty in both the Champions League final and this summer’s World Cup and Lopez has moved on this summer. The man left on the bench against Burnley will know that there will be some of Europe’s top clubs only too willing to make them first choice. The chances of the man slighted not sticking around for long are increased by the fact that Chelsea currently have one non-homegrown player too many in order to register.
Of the two Courtois appears the likely starter, given his previous statements and that Chelsea opted against loaning him out again. The fact that Courtois could be Chelsea’s goalkeeper for the next 15 years means it would appear the smart decision to side with the Belgian and avoid the risk of losing him. However, Mourinho’s tendency during his managerial career is to focus almost exclusively on winning in the here and now rather than on what might be best for the future.
Still, it is Čech who is being strongly linked with a transfer away. The Daily Telegraph reports that Real Madrid, Paris Saint-Germain and Monaco are all ready to pay £10 million for Čech should be sat on the bench rather than stood between the goalposts on Monday at Turf Moor.
The possibility of Real Madrid’s interest is particularly surprising. While they recently allowed López to leave for Milan, the European champions have brought in Costa Rican keeper Keylor Navas, meaning they again already have two goalkeepers eyeing the No.1 spot. Real Madrid have also been linked with Courtois in the past and, should there be a surprise and it be the Belgian who misses out of Chelsea’s opener, then they may well renew that interest, alongside several other clubs who continue to monitor the situation with an even keener eye than the rest of the soccer world.