Atletico Madrid and Thibaut Courtois face a UEFA Champions League dilemma, after being drawn against Chelsea in the last four of the competition.
Courtois is in his third season on loan at the Vicente Calderon club, during which time he has established himself as one of the best goalkeepers in world football. The Belgian international, who won his 14th cap for his country in their 2-2 friendly draw with Ivory Coast last month, has played a key role in Los Rojiblancos fine season to date, which sees them challenging for glory in La Liga and, of course, in Europe.
Once his temporary club and his parent club negotiated their way into the semi-finals of the Champions League this week, at the expense of Barcelona and Paris St Germain respectively, it immediately brought up the possibility of Courtois facing Jose Mourinho’s side for a place in the final. Unlike the Premier League, there are no restrictions in Europe preventing a player from playing against his parent club should they be drawn together.
And as luck would have it, it was confirmed on Friday that Chelsea will indeed face Atletico in the last four, with the first leg taking place in the Spanish capital. Further to this, UEFA quickly dismissed a clause in the 21-year-old’s contract which was inserted to forbid him from lining up against the Blues in such a scenario. The governing body ruled that this clause, which supposedly has a £6million buyout, is ‘null, voice and unenforceable.’
Their statement read: “Both the Champions League and the disciplinary regulations contain clear provisions which strictly forbid any club to exert any influence whatsoever over the players that another club may (or may not) field in a match. It follows that any provision in a private contract between clubs which might function in such a way as to influence who a club fields in a match is null, void and unenforceable. Furthermore, any attempt to enforce such a provision would be a clear violation of both the Uefa Champions League and the Uefa disciplinary regulations and would therefore be sanctioned accordingly.”
So whilst Courtois is eligible to line up against the Stamford Bridge club, it remains to be seen if he does so. Atletico are understood to be wary of damaging their relationship with the Premier League side, especially as they are keen to retain the goalkeeper for a fourth season. It will also be interesting to see if Chelsea will interfere with their decision making, as they are hopeful of luring Diego Costa from the Vicente Calderon in the summer.
Courtois, for his part, has already played against his parent club, when he impressed during Atletico’s European Super Cup victory of last season. However, that is often viewed as nothing more than a glorified friendly whereas the Champions League, a competition in which his current club have never won but finished runners-up to Bayern Munich in 1974, is widely regarded as the most prestigious club competition in European football.
The youngster will also be aware of that possibility that Mourinho may want him in the Chelsea side next season. Although this would involve dropping the dependable and long-serving Petr Cech to the bench, or even selling the Czech Republic ace, the Portuguese coach has been hugely impressed with Courtois and knows there will come a time when he will have to decide who his number one choice at Stamford Bridge is.
Meanwhile, the other semi-final will be contested between Real Madrid and Bayern Munich. The latter, who survived a scare against Manchester United in the quarter-finals, are looking to become the first team to ever win the competition in its current guise, whilst Los Blancos are gunning for a record extending tenth success in the tournament. Both sides are also in the running for the treble, a feat the Germans achieved last season.