Jose Mourinho's decision that Thibaut Courtois should be Chelsea's starting goalkeeper next season has provoked dissent within the English Premier League club. The Belgium international has been loaned to Atletico Madrid for the last three years and does not intend to move to Stamford Bridge following this month's Champions League Final without a guarantee of first-team football.
With just two seasons remaining on the deal agreed when Chelsea signed Courtois from Racing Genk in 2011, the 21-year-old has already established himself as one of the game's best keepers. The consistency of his performances in La Liga and European competition coupled with that perilous contract status have encouraged Barcelona and Real Madrid to test Courtois' commitment to a parent club he has yet to play a game for.
Chelsea's problem is that they already have one of the game's elite goalkeepers in Petr Cech and cannot reasonably expect to pair the two in one squad. Taking the constraints imposed on the club's transfer and wage budget by UEFA Financial Fair Play regulations into account, Mourinho has reluctantly concluded that the most pragmatic approach is to secure Courtois’ long-term by giving him the starting position while selling the 31-year-old Cech to raise revenue to spend on other areas of the team.
Bringing Courtois back from loan would also avoid any possibility of a repeat of the Champions League semifinal debacle in which a Chelsea employee played a key role in eliminating the club for Europe's premier competition. UEFA instructed Atletico to disregard a contractual clause intended to prevent Courtois playing in the two-legged tie.
Within the senior setup, however, there has been division over strategy. Goalkeeping coach Christophe Lollichon has advised that both players be offered new deals with Courtois to be loaned out for a fourth season. Lollichon's opinion is valued by Chelsea's hierarchy, which retained the Frenchman's services last summer despite Mourinho bringing his own goalkeeping coach, Silvino Louro, back to Stamford Bridge.
Mourinho is understood to have made his discontent with that recommendation clear to Lollichon, who was originally brought to Chelsea on Cech's request. “Christophe is under pressure from the manager,” said a friend. “He's convinced Thibaut is going to be the best goalkeeper in the world but does not think he should succeed Petr yet.” The final decision on the Cech-Courtois conundrum will have to be sanctioned by billionaire owner Roman Abramovich.
Chelsea must also deal with Paris Saint-Germain's aggressive attempt to bring Eden Hazard back to French football. The Professional Footballers' Association's Young Player of the Year has been made aware of the lucrative terms on offer at the Qatar-owned club and at the very least expects to improve his Stamford Bridge salary. Mourinho highlighted the Belgian's failure “to sacrifice himself 100 percent for the team” after marking errors cost Chelsea two goals in second-leg defeat to Atletico and is monitoring the situation. Chelsea officials say they will not entertain offers for Hazard.
Discussions with Atletico over the transfer of Diego Costa were put on hold during their semifinal ties, and a close friend of the Brazil-born Spain center forward says he will not sign anything with Chelsea before the season is over. Mourinho, however, remains confident of finally securing a striker he initially attempted to bring to Stamford Bridge last summer.
"What we want when we have three extremely important games ahead of us is that no one attempts to destabilize the team,” said Atletico president Enrique Cerezo this week. “We have time to talk about this later. I can tell you that there is nothing, and as long as there's nothing official to show that one of our players is in another club they are not moving to another team. If the question is, 'Is there an offer for [Diego] Costa?' then we haven't heard anything."