You know when you’ve got to make a difficult decision, and you put it off, and keep putting it off, and then it gets to the critical stage and you’re running out of time and you just have to make a decision, it doesn’t matter what, JUST MAKE ONE…?
That’s exactly where Chelsea are this summer. Chelsea’s on-loan star Thibault Courtois is quite clearly the best up-and-coming goalkeeper in Europe (and possibly the world). In fact, he may already be good enough to be considered as one of the best, full stop. Meanwhile, Petr Cech is still putting in the sort of performances in the Chelsea goal that make many still regard him as a man right at the top of his profession.
It’s a dream position to be in. Only it’s not. At some point, Courtois must be integrated into the first team. But when? Would we be silly to ditch Cech when he is still in form (and he IS in form despite a shaky performance at PSG)? But if we don’t, the chances of Courtois deciding his future lies elsewhere increase. And with his present contract nearing the time at which it must either be extended or cashed in on, that danger increases exponentially.
The easy thing is to do nothing – to let Courtois have one more year at Atletico. That’s what we did last summer. The idea being to make sure he’s completely ready to take Cech’s gloves. But this summer there can be doubt. He is ready. He’s made it as clear as he can.
The other answer that is sometimes floated is for Courtois to come back and battle it out with Cech for the number 1 spot. The trouble with that is, he’s made it plain he wants to be the number 1 from day 1. Earlier, that could be written off as arrogance and ignored. Now, he has a valid point. Why should he play a possible second fiddle at Chelsea when he could be the number 1 at almost any other club in the world?
It’s time the hard decision was taken. Courtois should come back to Chelsea this year, and be encouraged to sign an extended contract. He should be considered the first-choice keeper, at least to begin with. That consideration should be slightly easier to make given Cech’s shoulder injury, which is likely to rule him out of a large part of pre-season training at least.
The question then is what to do about Cech? That will depend on him. If he is happy to wait for his chance to get the number 1 jersey back, then Chelsea should have no problem with him doing that. To have one of the planet’s best keepers as a back-up is a truly enviable position to be in. If he is unhappy about that, then he should be released. Painful as that might be, Chelsea would be able to command quite a sizeable fee for him.
This may sound mercenary. But football is mercenary. Courtois is the future, Cech is not. He has to be replaced some day. Keep him now, and we may let the best possible successor slip through our hands.