Thibaut Courtois: He's now being compared to real legend »San Iker«, Iker Casillas
Photo: JAVIER SORIANO / AFP
The other day Thibaut Courtois received a present, and because he's not the type of false modesty, he shared it with the whole world: a jersey from football god Tom Brady, personally dedicated to "Thibaut, the best goalkeeper in the world" .
The American Brady is not a notable authority on football issues, for sure.
But he's not quite alone with his opinion since Courtois, 28, drove rows of international celebrities to despair.
In the quarter-final second leg of the Champions League, the Real Madrid keeper nipped the bud of Liverpool FC from catching up when he defended star striker Mohamed Salah in the third minute in a one-on-one.
And in the semi-final first leg against Chelsea it was hardly played longer when he denied Timo Werner the opening goal from five meters with a fabulous foot defense.
Like Salah before, Werner was done as a goal getter for the rest of the evening;
That's one of the reasons why Chelsea only go 1-1 into today's second leg despite their dominant performance.
"I just put my foot out like that," Courtois said of the blocked Werner shot, and did it again.
Courtois, 1.99 meters, can make his large body even bigger in such duels and still retains remarkable agility.
In the meantime he also has the mentality of an exceptional keeper, the strong nerves and the intimidation factor.
"He is at the best moment of his career and one more step above 2018," says Roberto Martínez, his national coach for the Belgians.
King in the air - no wonder with a height of 1.99 meters
Photo: JOAQUIN CORCHERO / imago images / Cordon Press / Miguelez Sports
2018 was the summer when he was named the best goalkeeper in the World Cup.
Courtois seemed to have gotten to where his fantastic teenage investments at KRC Genk seemed to take him.
At Atlético Madrid (2011-2014) he established himself early on as the backing of a champion and Champions League finalist, his vintage elegance with classic hair and black gloves also gave him aesthetic contours.
At Chelsea (2014-2018) he might not have made a step forward, but certainly nothing wrong.
The problems came after that, with the move to Real.
The heavy legacy of Navas
“I survived a tsunami” - this is how he himself recently described the difficult early days there.
For himself it might be a wish transfer: the return to Madrid meant the return to his children, whose mother had left him not least because of his frequent affairs.
Real President Florentino Pérez rubbed his hands: with a transfer fee of 35 million euros, the World Cup star was comparatively cheap because he was about to enter his last year of contract.
But otherwise nobody had been waiting for him.
The goal belonged to Keylor Navas, popular with the team and the audience, who could point to having won all twelve Champions League knockout rounds he contested.
Courtois, on the other hand, appeared as the presidential Caprice, who was forced on the coaches for reasons of club policy because he was younger and more marketable.
Ball in goal: Courtois' early days at Real Madrid were tough
Photo: JOHANNES EISELE / AFP
The goalkeeper debate took its course: here the protégé and newcomer, there the well-deserved and discarded old master.
“There was a tough internal competition,” Father Thierry Courtois later explained, comparing Navas' perseverance with the more generous attitude of goalkeeping legend Petr Cech during their time at Chelsea: “Petr was a great team-mate Thibaut could always count on.
The same cannot be said of Keylor. "
After a year, Navas was sold to Paris Saint-Germain.
What the fans thought of it, they soon announced: While the mere mention of the name of the lost Champions League hero led to an ovation at the general assembly, Courtois was whistled at the following home game against Bruges.
His performance, which was only mixed in the first season, continued to deteriorate.
The tsunami was complete.
He's got something loudmouthed
Courtois is a guy who appreciates popularity and can seem a bit narcissistic.
There is something refreshingly open about his interviews and they go as far as crossing the boundaries of footballer codes, for example when he praises his own parades as good and decisive.
Despite all the loud mouth, Courtois always remains cultivated in the form.
It is also part of his luck that at the decisive moment he had the best understanding of footballers as his boss, Zinédine Zidane.
The coach, who returned to Real after a break, knew what to do.
When Courtois finally showed his class at a Champions League game in Istanbul in October 2019, he made him the savior and hero of the evening at the press conference afterwards.
It was the turnaround.
The coach stood by him and Courtois became more and more confident
Photo: Juan Manuel Serrano Arce / Getty Images
Since then, a vicious circle has turned into an upward spiral: eulogies from the press, good performances, even more eulogies, even better performances.
In the same season Courtois became the championship guarantor and this season he keeps a tired, injured team in the race again and again.
Since the Corona break, he has only conceded 28 goals in 44 league games, of the last 22 shots on goal, he saved 21.
Where he is now seen in Spain on a par with the long-established Jan Oblak (Atlético) and Marc-André ter Stegen (Barcelona), where club-related media celebrate him with their highest goalkeeping title since "San Iker" Casillas as "San Thibaut" - at most, his ex-club Chelsea still have keeper problems.
In 2018, the Londoners signed the young Kepa Arrizabalaga as Courtois successor for 80 million euros. Perhaps Chelsea would have stuck to Zidane better: Kepa was supposed to be given a quarter of the sum in winter 2018. But Zidane refused.